Flash signal evolution, mate choice, and predation in fireflies

Annu Rev Entomol. 2008:53:293-321. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ento.53.103106.093346.


Many key advances in our understanding of firefly biology and signaling have been made over the past two decades. Here we review this recent research, which includes new phylogenetic results that shed light on the evolution of courtship signal diversity within the family Lampyridae, new insights into firefly flash control, and the discovery of firefly nuptial gifts. We present a comprehensive overview of sexual selection in lampyrids, including evidence from Photinus fireflies that females choose their mates on the basis of male flash signals, and discuss the importance of examining both precopulatory and postcopulatory sexual selection in this group. Finally, we review recent findings on firefly chemical defenses, and discuss their implications for flash signal evolution in response to generalist predators as well as specialist predatory fireflies. This review provides new insight into how firefly flash signals have been shaped by the dual evolutionary processes of sexual selection (mate choice) and natural selection (predation), and proposes several exciting directions for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Fireflies / physiology*
  • Male
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Species Specificity