About the flies or butterflies and similar animals that fly and glow at night; and especially about one of these that the Indians of the island call cocuyos.[1]

Translated by Paola Castañeda ’22

There are many flies or butterflies and beetles on all these islands that fly and glow in the night, like the ones they sometimes call fireflies in Castile that come out in the summer; in these parts they do the same almost all the time, for here there is little difference between day and night, and the weather is always temperate because there is not too much heat and is very rarely cold, unless the North or Septentrion wind is blowing on this island of Hispaniola, or if one were on some mountain range, of which there are many here. So here there are many and varied types of these fireflies, but these are small. There is one specifically called cocuyo that is a wonder to behold. This animal is well known on this island of Hispaniola and in all the others near it; it is a species of beetle, as big as the tip of the thumb or a bit smaller. It has a pair of hard wings, under which there are another two thinner wings that it hides and covers with the ones above when it is done flying; it has glowing eyes, like candles, in such a way that wherever it flies it makes the air around as bright as the light from a fire. The light is so bright that in the evening, if it is held in someone’s hand everyone who needs a light and sees it from afar will come to get the flame, thinking it is another candle.  It shines in such a way that inside a dark chamber its light is enough to be able to read or write a letter; if one gathers four or five of these cocuyos and ties or strings them together they serve just as well as a lantern in the fields, or by the hills or anywhere, as long as it’s a very dark night. When there was war on this island of Hispaniola and the other islands, the Christians and Indians would use them as lights, so as to not get lost; especially the Indians, being more skilled at catching these animals they would make necklaces out of them when they wanted to be seen from a league away or farther. And thus in the fields and during night hunts the men use the fireflies as needed, without the air or harsh winds or water taking away their light or stopping them from seeing where they’re going. When the men of war of this island would go on night raids, in pitch darkness, the leader or guide at the forefront would place a firefly on his head that would serve as a lantern for all the people that followed him. This brightness that this animal has in its eyes it also has on its back, and when it opens its wings to fly it uncovers even more brightness under them, and thus provides the same light as it does with its eyes; and both lights together give off even more brightness when it flies. They keep these cocuyos captive or contained, using them at night to light the houses or use during dinner, without the need for any other light. And in the past the Christians would do the same to save money on oil for their lamps, either because it was very expensive at that time or because there wasn’t any available. And when they saw the cocuyos’ light dying down or growing dim from getting weaker or from the distress of their captivity, they would let them go and catch others for the upcoming days. When the Indians were celebrating or wanted to have fun they would rub their faces and chests with a paste made from these fireflies, and they would scare whomever was distracted or did not know who they were, as whatever the paste or fireflies was rubbed onto would appear to be on fire. As this animal gets weaker or dies, similarly little by little the brightness consumes itself to the point where it ends and dissolves into nothing. Enough has been said about the fireflies and all the animals that glow (including the worms that also glow), and I believe the cocuyos win over all of them.

[1] Fireflies or Pyrophorus noctilucus. [EE]