What You Can See on May 22

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Flying Lanterns Few creatures are more stimulating to what Rachel Carson called our “sense of wonder” than the roughly 136 beetles of the family Lampyridae, which flash over North American meadows and gardens on soft spring and summer evenings. We know them as fireflies, or lightning bugs. Each species has a pattern of flashes so distinctive as to be recognizable to attentive humans. Females lure males by answering their flashes, but females of some species mimic the flash sequences of others, luring males not as mates but as meals. Humans use the chemicals involved in the reaction to study diseases, including cancers. Because these chemicals can’t be synthesized, fireflies are much sought by researchers. Sigma Chemicals Company of St. Louis, Missouri, which buys them for a penny a piece, reports that virtually all its suppliers are children. The poet David McCord, after explaining that real stars “are all so far away for creature kind that hide by day,” aptly described fireflies as “little lanterns sailing by,/ Like stars across a mimic sky,/ Just high enough -- but not too high.” Children should be sent after them early and often. Never will they forget coursing through high grass with a net, sweeping lanterns from that mimic sky.