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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 14May 18, 2002 - Issue 61


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The Origin of Fire


Apache Legend

Long, long ago, animals and trees talked with each other, but there was no fire at that time.

Fox was most clever and he tried to think of a way to create fire for the world. One day, he decided to visit the Geese, te-tl, whose cry he wished to learn how to imitate. They promised to teach him if he would fly with them. So they contrived a way to attach wings to Fox, but cautioned him never to open his eyes while flying.

Whenever the Geese arose in flight, Fox also flew along with them to practice their cry. On one such adventure, darkness descended suddenly as they flew over the village of the fireflies, ko-na-tcic-a. In midflight, the glare from the flickering fireflies caused Fox to forget and he opened his eyes--instantly his wings collapsed! His fall was uncontrollable. He landed within the walled area of the firefly village, where a fire constantly burned in the center

Two kind fireflies came to see fallen Fox, who gave each one a necklace of juniper berries, katl-te-i-tse.

Fox hoped to persuade the two fireflies to tell him where he could find a way over the wall to the outside. They led him to a cedar tree, which they explained would bend down upon command and catapult him over the wall if he so desired.

That evening, Fox found the spring where fireflies obtained their water. There also, he discovered coloured earth, which when mixed with water made paint. He decided to give himself a coat of white. Upon returning to the village, Fox suggested to the fireflies, "Let's have a festival where we can dance and I will produce the music."

They all agreed that would be fun and helped to gather wood to build up a greater fire. Secretly, Fox tied a piece of cedar bark to his tail. Then he made a drum, probably the first one ever constructed, and beat it vigorously with a stick for the dancing fireflies. Gradually, he moved closer and closer to the fire.

Fox pretended to tire from beating the drum. He gave it to some fireflies who wanted to help make the music. Fox quickly thrust his tail into the fire, lighting the bark, and exclaimed, "It is too warm here for me, I must find a cooler place."

Straight to the cedar tree Fox ran, calling, "Bend down to me, my cedar tree, bend down!"

Down bent the cedar tree for Fox to catch hold, then up it carried him far over the wall. On and on he ran, with the fireflies in pursuit.

As Fox ran along, brush and wood on either side of his path were ignited from the sparks dropping from the burning bark tied to his tail.

Fox finally tired and gave the burning bark to Hawk, i-tsarl-tsu-i, who carried it to brown Crane, tsi-nes-tso-l. He flew far southward, scattering fire sparks everywhere. This is how fire first spread over the earth.

Fireflies continued chasing Fox all the way to his burrow and declared, "Forever after, Wily Fox, your punishment for stealing our fire will be that you can never make use of it for yourself."

For the Apache nation, this too was the beginning of fire for them. Soon they learned to use it for cooking their food and to keep themselves warm in cold weather.

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Firefly (Lampyridae)

Fireflies are actually beetles!

"Firefly" is the common name for the nocturnal (night-time) luminous (glowing) insects belonging to the beetle family Lampyridae (order Coleoptera). Some people call them "lightning bugs". There are over 2000 species of fireflies living in the tropical and temperate regions. They range in size from 1/5 of an inch to one inch in length. Most fireflies found in the United States are about an inch or less in length.

Female fireflies lay their eggs in the soil. The eggs hatch about four weeks later into larvae. The larvae are carnivorous. The larvae sometimes glow, and are commonly known as "glowworms". Firefly eggs are also reported to glow. After hatching the larvae spend the summer eating tiny insects, larvae, and even slugs and snails. They then dig small tunnels in which they spend the winter. As the soil warms up in spring they come out to eat again, pupate and eventually emerge as fireflies. It is believed that some adult fireflies do not eat. Other kinds feed on pollen and nectar.

They have special light organs on the underside of the abdomen. Both male and female are luminous, meaning that they light up. The rhythmic flashing patterns that they make are different depending on sex and species. It is believed that the flashes are part of a signal system for attracting mates. Some scientists even believe the flashing is a warning system to predators that they taste bad. However, frogs eat fireflies in large amounts whenever they can.

During the summer, fireflies rest on plants or in trees during the day and fly around between dusk and midnight. They seem to like damp places. The firefly light is called a "cold light" because it produces no heat. It is produced when oxygen, breathed in through the abdominal trachea, or holes, combines with a substance called luciferin in the presence of the enzyme luciferase, in special cells called photocytes. It's a lot like the glow-in-the-dark light sticks that kids use at Halloween. The light stick has two separate compartments with a different chemical in each one. When you crack the stick, the two chemicals mix, and the stick begins to glow! It's the same with the firefly. As the molecules of the chemicals combine, they give a kick of energy and create a short burst of light. This chemical reaction is known as "chemiluminescence"

If you live in the United States, west of about the middle of Kansas, you are not apt to have the flashing type of fireflies in your area. Although some isolated sightings of luminous fireflies have been reported from time to time from regions of the western U.S., fireflies that glow are typically not found west of Kansas. The reason for this phenomenon is not known.

Many firefly species tend to be found around water such as ponds, streams, marshes or even depressions, ditches, etc., that may retain moisture longer then surrounding areas. However, fireflies are also found in very dry regions of the world as well.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

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