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Collect lightning bugs for science, cash

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Calling all lightning bug collectors: Scientists are calling for help.

And the price is going up. This year, the price for fireflies has jumped to the all-time high of 50 cents per gram or $14.20 per ounce for a fresh supply of insects. This is approximately $2 per 100 average size bugs. (Approximately, because the insects are purchased by weight, not by count.)

Scientists and technicians will be using the lightning bugs in produce safety testing to detect contamination of bacteria in food. With outbreaks of E. Coli, there is an increased public concern for quick, accurate detection of bacteria in food.

Material in the lightning bug is used to address “food fear,” through testing to help insure safety in things that people eat.

The enzyme luciferase is also used by some other scientists as a genetic marker tag to search for potentially revolutionary treatments for presently incurable diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, cystic fibrosis and some cancers.

Most of the bugs collected this summer will go toward public health concerns.

A collection station will be open from 7 to 7:30 p.m. July 17 at Rockwood Fire Station 2 on South Kingston Avenue.

Another collection station will be from 11 to 11:30 a.m. July 19 at Oliver Springs Police Department at 701 Main St.

Collectors can take their bugs to either site to be redeemed for the use of science.

For a list of other collection sites in the area, write Firefly Project, c/o 122 Emory Lane, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, or call 1-562-536-3930.

The e-mail address is fireflyproject@yahoo.com.

Responding to the call of scientists in the summer of 2013, collectors delivered 823 grams of lightning bugs to Rockwood last year.

Leading the way were Rockwood’s star collectors Roy and Shirley Cook of 137 N. Douglas Ave., Rockwood, who accounted for the bug bundle of 823 grams.

The Cooks earned a check for nearly $400 in lightning bug loot.

In 2013, scientists paid 48 cents a gram or $13.75 an ounce, which is approximately $1.90 for 100 average-sized fireflies

Scientists and technicians use material in the insects as a valuable tool in important medical research and for public health safety testing of food.

For any wishing to try their hand at helping science by collecting fireflies, the rules are simple but important:

• Catch the right bug, the one with the red head, black back and yellow tail. All others are worthless. The right bug is the one easiest to catch and is detected by its leisurely blinking pattern. Long-timers at catching lightning bugs advise using a net to catch the bugs which come out best around twilight. Such a net can be made at home from such things as a coat hanger and a pillowcase or cheesecloth.

• Freeze the bugs alive the night they are caught. This preserves the fragile enzyme.

• Never let them thaw or get wet. If they thaw or get wet, they may become worthless. Keep them dry and frozen. A napkin in the bug container will help absorb condensation.

• Make an ice pack when delivering them. Once outside a freezer, it takes only 5 minutes for the bugs to thaw. An ice pack protects both the lightning bugs and the collector’s “net gains.”

• Only insects caught fresh this summer are good. Old bugs caught from a previous summer lose their enzyme activity and are worthless.

Write Firefly Project, c/o 122 Emory Lane, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, call 562-536-3930 or email fireflyproject@yahoo.com for details.