Legislators help teach lightning bug lobbyists

Indiana school children followed the actions of the General Assembly this past session, but their focus was not on highway funding or tax relief.

No, the real buzz among the students was the possible adoption of a state insect. Pupils were learning the fine art of how to win friends and influence people in the legislature when they proposed that the state should adopt the pyractomena angulata as the Hoosier insect.

Better known as Say’s firefly, it is even better known as the lightning bug.

The kids waged a valiant campaign for the flashy little creature, writing letters, sending emails, making calls and meeting with their representatives. The hub of the effort seems to have been in Lafayette, where students invited state Sen. Ron Alting to visit their school, hear their request and offer ideas about how to get their proposal written into a bill.

Over in the Indiana House, the kids had a good friend in Rep. Sheila Klinker, who had sponsored insect bills before. She encouraged the students to get their parents involved, pass petitions and visit the Statehouse.

It was a good lesson for youngsters about how to get their ideas across to others, and they actually learned a lot about the democratic process. By the time it was over, most of them knew the names of their lawmakers and had a good grasp of just how an idea can turn into a law.

Alas, this particular idea did not fly. The kids got their bill, but like many others, it did not get past the committee stage.

The idea of a state insect is not as buggy as it sounds. Most states already have one. As a matter of fact, only four states do not have an official insect. Iowa, Michigan and Rhode Island join Indiana as the only states which evidently have swatted down efforts to embrace a bug.

School children will tell you that insects are good for us, or at least good for nature. They play a vital role in the environment. Maybe that’s why so many states have paid them homage.

Ohio likes the seven-spotted lady bug. Connecticut praises the praying mantis. New Mexico, not surprisingly, is the only state that has bravely adopted the tarantula hawk wasp.

Illinois has crowned the monarch butterfly as its own, and Kentucky likes the viceroy butterfly. As a matter of fact, the butterfly soars above all others as the most popular insect in America. No fewer than 28 states have named some variety of butterfly as their choice.

If Indiana is going to have an official insect, the kids have probably chosen the right one. The pyractomena angulata is called “Say’s firefly” for a good reason. It was named for Thomas Say of New Harmony. In the early 1800s he conducted extensive research into insects of all kinds, so much so that he has become known as the “father of entomology.”

You might be surprised to learn that there are more than 150 varieties of fireflies in the United States, and a couple of thousand other types around the world.

And here’s a news flash: the firefly is not a fly at all; it is a beetle.

People who know a lot about this topic will tell you that there are three general categories of these special beetles in the United States. There is the phontinus variety that emits a yellow-green light. Then there is the photuris type, which glows a dark green.

And then there is our friend the pyractomena, most common in the Hoosier State. This is the bright little bug that Thomas Say studied closely. It quietly blinks the warm amber light most of us remember on summer evenings. To see a dark meadow silently aglow with a million little blinks is to witness a wonder of nature.

A poet has called the firefly “a magic moment in the night.”

Maybe next year Indiana lawmakers might find a minute between more important things to give a nod to Thomas Say, his firefly, and a lot of little lightning bug lobbyists from Lafayette.