Whenever I hear something interesting, I often like to learn more about it. In the case of something unusual, I like to get to the bottom of it. When my research leads me to an interesting medical phenomenon, my interest is piqued even more.
This fascinating story has all of the above and more.
A patient was in the office last week and we were talking about fireflies. (I talk about a wide range of topics during the day, often depending upon the activities or interests of my wonderfully diverse patients.) She asked if I had heard of blue fireflies. I had not. Perhaps you haven’t either.
Although I have never seen them, there exists a particular species of fireflies that emit a bluish glow instead of the more common yellow-greenish glow that I am familiar with. These interesting bugs with the alternative hue live in only a few areas of the world, primarily in very remote spots in the Smoky Mountains. They create a distinctly blue flash as they “show out” while seeking a mate.
Fireflies live in the adult form for only about three weeks. According to the Smithsonian Institute, there are about 2,000 species of fireflies (a form of beetle)! Only a few species actually light up, though. The particular type, hue, and pattern of their flashing help them identify prospective mates in early evenings.
The species that emits a bluish flash is sought after by fascinated fans so much that to be able to see them, an interested firefly chaser must register in April for a lottery, hoping to be chosen randomly out of thousands to follow a ranger into the Smoky Mountains in May or June on a nighttime hike to witness the blue-light special exhibit. The blue-glowing fireflies exist in a particularly rare type of habitat, so getting to observe their mating activity is a treat.
As I read about the blue-glowing fireflies, I began to think about other interesting lifeforms that glow.
One of my most treasured memories is of my first ocean night dive. I had been a certified SCUBA diver for a couple of years before I had the opportunity to do a night dive. I was asked to go out with a small group of divers into the Caribbean to see what the underwater world looked like after the sun went down.
Our little boat, called a six-pack because there was only room for six divers, motored across the calm sea on a moonless night for an interminable time. When the engine cut off and the dive master announced we were “there,” I looked around to get my bearings. I was lost. I literally could not see any land form from our location. I saw a slight glow off in the distance, but I really did not know if I was seeing an island or a nautical craft.
I looked up and saw a million stars, more than I had ever witnessed on land. I didn’t have long to indulge myself in that vista, however, because all the other divers were prepping for the dive. I had to scurry to get my gear ready and perform the final critical safety checks before making the dive.
As I looked into the water, I saw what I could only describe as the blackest black I could imagine. There appeared to be nothing below the boat. I thought for a moment, “Do I really want to do this?” But only for a moment as the other divers were taking their turn submerging into the blackness.
I followed their lead, realizing I was totally dependent upon the dive master. I had no idea of my location and was about to voluntarily submerge myself into the black abyss, sinking toward the ocean floor. I had to temporarily suspend my fear of the unknown and rely upon the dive master that had led us to this spot, my dive buddies and my own training and equipment.
As I sat on the edge of the boat, leaned back then intentionally fell backwards into the sea, I felt the familiar sensation of the water as the dive began, but every other sensation was foreign. My head was still above water and all was dark. I signaled the traditional “OK” sign to the dive master by placing my fist on top of my head, then began my descent to join my friends.
As I switched on my underwater light and quietly began to descend, I heard only the sound of my own breathing, intensified by my SCUBA gear. My senses were heightened by the unnatural, surreal experience.
I was not prepared for the spectacular view of the sea life before me. As I submerged beneath the water’s surface, I realized that I had literally entered a world that will forever be unseen by most people. I was now living among sea creatures that only come out at night.
Next week; Things that glow in the nighttime sea and the mystery of the glowing Shiloh Civil War soldiers.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a chiropractor in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com