Skip to main content
Log in

Vision in click beetles (Coleoptera: Elateridae): pigments and spectral correspondence between visual sensitivity and species bioluminescence emission

  • Original Paper
  • Published:
Journal of Comparative Physiology A Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Among lampyrids, intraspecific sexual communication is facilitated by spectral correspondence between visual sensitivity and bioluminescence emission from the single lantern in the tail. Could a similar strategy be utilized by the elaterids (click beetles), which have one ventral abdominal and two dorsal prothoracic lanterns? Spectral sensitivity [S(λ)] and bioluminescence were investigated in four Brazilian click beetle species Fulgeochlizus bruchii, Pyrearinus termitilluminans, Pyrophorus punctatissimus and P. divergens, representing three genera. In addition, in situ microspectrophotometric absorption spectra were obtained for visual and screening pigments in P. punctatissimus and P. divergens species. In all species, the electroretinographic S(λ) functions showed broad peaks in the green with a shoulder in the near-ultraviolet, suggesting the presence of short- and long-wavelength receptors in the compound eyes. The long-wavelength receptor in Pyrophorus species is mediated by a P540 rhodopsin in conjunction with a species-specific screening pigment. A correspondence was found between green to yellow bioluminescence emissions and its broad S(λ) maximum in each of the four species. It is hypothesized that in elaterids, bioluminescence of the abdominal lantern is an optical signal for intraspecifc sexual communication, while the signals from the prothoracic lanterns serve to warn predators and may also provide illumination in flight.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Similar content being viewed by others








Q :



Spectral sensitivity


  • Bechara EJH (1988) Luminescent elaterid beetles: biochemical, biological, and ecological aspects. In: Baumstark AL (ed) Advances in oxygenated processes, vol 1. JAI Press Inc., London, pp 123–178

    Google Scholar 

  • Booth D, Stewart AJA, Osorio D (2004) Color vision in the glow-worm Lampyris noctiluca (L.) (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): evidence for a green-blue chromatic mechanism. J Exp Biol 207:2373–2378

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Briscoe AD, Chittka L (2001) The evolution of color vision in insects. Annu Rev Entomol 46:471–510

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Chuang C, Yang E, Tso I (2007) Diurnal and nocturnal prey luring of a colorful predator. J Exp Biol 210:3830–3837

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Chuang C, Yang E, Tso I (2008) Deceptive color signaling in the night: a nocturnal predator attracts prey with visual lures. Behav Ecol 19:237–244

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Colepicolo-Neto P, Bechara EJH (1984) Bioluminescencia de insectos: Química e Biologia. Arq Biol Tecnol 27:439–464

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Colepicolo-Neto P, Costa C, Bechara EJH (1986) Brazilian species of luminescent elaterid. Insect Biochem 16:803–810

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Costa C (1971) Gênero Pyrophorus. 4. Redescrição e revalidação de Pyrophorus divergens Eschscholtz (Coleoptera, Elateridae). Pap Avulsos Zool (São Paulo) 24:65–72

    Google Scholar 

  • Costa C (1975) Systematics and evolution of the tribes Pyrophorini and Heligimini with description of Campyloxeninae, new subfamily (Coleoptera, Elateridae). Arq Zool 26:49–191

    Google Scholar 

  • Costa C (1982) Pyrearinus termitilluminans, sp. n., with description of the immature stages (Coleoptera, Elateridae, Pyrophorini). Rev Bras Entomol 1:23–30

    Google Scholar 

  • Costa C (1991) New species of the genus Fulgeochlizus Costa, 1975 (Elateridae, Pyrophorinae). Rev Bras Entomol 35:567–572

    Google Scholar 

  • Cronin TW, Järvilehto MVA, Weckström M, Lall AB (2000) Tuning of photoreceptor spectral sensitivity in fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). J Comp Physiol A 184:1–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eguchi E, Nemoto A, Meyer-Rochow VB, Ohba N (1984) A comparative study of spectral sensitivity curves in three diurnal and eight nocturnal species of Japanese fireflies. J Insect Physiol 30:607–612

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnsen SA, Kelber A, Warrant EJ, Sweeney AM, Widder EA, Lee RL, Jernandez-André J (2006) Crepuscular and nocturnal illumination and its effects on color perception by the nocturnal hawkmoth Deilephila elpenor. J Exp Biol 209:789–800

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kelber A, Roth LSN (2006) Nocturnal colour vision—not as rare as we might think. J Exp Biol 209:781–788

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Kelber A, Balkenius A, Warrant EJ (2002) Scotopic colour vision in nocturnal hawkmoths. Nature 419:922–925

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lall AB (1981) Electroretinogram and the spectral sensitivity of the compound eyes in the firefly Photuris versicolor (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): a correspondence between green sensitivity and species bioluminescence emission. J Insect Physiol 27:461–468

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lall AB, Chapman RM, Trouth CO, Holloway JA (1980a) Spectral mechanisms of the compound eye in the firefly Photinus pyralis (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). J Comp Physiol 135:21–27

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lall AB, Seliger HH, Biggley WH, Lloyd JE (1980b) Ecology of colors of firefly bioluminescence. Science 210:560–562

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lall AB, Lord ET, Trouth CO (1982) Vision in firefly Photuris lucicrescens (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): spectral sensitivity and selective adaptation in the compound eyes. J Comp Physiol 147:195–200

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lall AB, Strother GK, Cronin TW, Seliger HH (1988) Modification of spectral sensitivities by the screening pigments in the compound eyes of twilight-active fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). J Comp Physiol A 162:23–33

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Lall AB, Ventura DF, Bechara EH, de Souza JM, Colepicolo-Neto P, Viviani VR (2000) Spectral correspondence between visual spectral sensitivity and bioluminescence emission spectra in the click-beetle Pyrophorus punctatissimus (Coleoptera: Elateridae). J Insect Physiol 46:1137–1141

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Land MF (1981) Optics and vision in invertebrates. In: Autrum H (ed) Handbook of sensory physiology, vol VII 6B. Springer, Berlin, pp 471–592

    Google Scholar 

  • Lloyd JE (1968) Illumination another function of firefly flashes? Entomol News 10:265–268

    Google Scholar 

  • Menzel R, Backhaus W (1991) Color vision in insects. In: Gouras P (ed) The perception of color–vision and visual dysfunction. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 262–293

    Google Scholar 

  • Meyer-Rochow VB, Horridge GA (1975) The eye of Anaplognathus (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae). Proc R Soc Lond B 188:1–30

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Munz FW, McFarland WN (1977) Evolutionary adaptations of fishes to the photic environment. In: Crescitelli F (ed) Handbook of sensory physiology, vol VII/5. Springer, Berlin, pp 193–274

    Google Scholar 

  • Muri RB, Jones GJ (1983) Microspectrophotometry of single rhabdoms in the retina of the honeybee drone (Apis mellifera). J Gen Physiol 82:469–496

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Naka KI, Rushton WAH (1966) S-potentials from color units in the retina of fish (Cyprinidae). J Physiol 185:536–555

    Google Scholar 

  • Palacios AG, Goldsmith TH, Bernard GD (1996) Sensitivity of cones of a cyprinid fish (Danio aequipinnatus) to ultraviolet and visible light. Vis Neurosci 13:411–421

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Seliger HH, Lall AB, Lloyd JE, Biggley WH (1982a) On the colors of firefly bioluminescence. I. An optimization model. Photochem Photobiol 36:673–680

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Seliger HH, Lall AB, Lloyd JE, Biggley WH (1982b) On the colors of firefly bioluminescence. II. Experimental evidence for the optimization model. Photochem Photobiol 36:681–688

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Wald G (1960) The distribution and evolution of visual systems. In: Florkin M, Mason HS (eds) Comparative Biochemistry, vol 1. Academic Press, New York, pp 311–345

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The electrophysiological data on the click beetles were part of a master’s degree thesis of Alexandre A. Carvalho at the Universidade de São Paulo. This investigation was supported by Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) and the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPQ), and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship to EJH Bechara; NSF grants IBN-118793 and IBN 0235820 to TW Cronin; National Institutes of Health grant SO6GM08016 to AB Lall; and grants to DF Ventura. We are grateful to Professora Cleide Costa (Museu de Zoologia, Universidade de São Paulo) for a critical reading of this manuscript and for providing us information on the geographical distribution of the Pyrophorini studied in South America. We are also indebted to anonymous reviewers for their critical suggestions to improve this MS and to Jean Lall for her excellent editorial support.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Abner B. Lall.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lall, A.B., Cronin, T.W., Carvalho, A.A. et al. Vision in click beetles (Coleoptera: Elateridae): pigments and spectral correspondence between visual sensitivity and species bioluminescence emission. J Comp Physiol A 196, 629–638 (2010).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: