Journal of Insect Behavior

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 365–370 | Cite as

Bioluminescence in firefly larvae: A test of the aposematic display hypothesis (Coleoptera: Lampyridae)

  • Todd J. Underwood
  • Douglas W. Tallamy
  • John D. Pesek


We investigated the hypothesis that bioluminescence in firefly larvae (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) functions as an aposematic display. In two experiments, we confirmed the distastefulness of firefly larvae, and tested the hypothesis that a naive, nocturnal predator can learn to use light signals as aposematic cues for avoiding distasteful prey. Larvae were rejected as acceptable prey by 100% of the house mice (Mus musculus) tested. Mice learned to avoid bitter food associated with light cues significantly faster (P=0.003) than mice presented with food lacking light cues. We conclude that luminescent glowing in firefly larvae meets the requirements of an aposematic signal.

Key words

firefly Lampyridae: aposematism bioluminescence 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Todd J. Underwood
    • 1
  • Douglas W. Tallamy
    • 1
  • John D. Pesek
    • 2
  1. 1.Delaware Agricultural Experiment Station, Department of Entomology and Applied Ecology, College of Agricultural SciencesUniversity of DelawareNewark
  2. 2.Department of Food and Resource Economics, College of Agricultural SciencesUniversity of DelawareNewark

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