Article image

Your summertime guide to enjoying the magic of fireflies

It’s that time of year to watch one of nature’s most fascinating light shows – not the Northern Lights – this show is courtesy of fireflies. For those of you lucky enough to have encountered fireflies on a summer evening, you know it is nothing short of magical. Whether as a child or adult, these small creatures induce wonder and delight. What makes these bugs so captivating? At first glance, they almost appear as a reflection or trick of the eye, and then, almost as if orchestrated by a ballet company, a handful to thousands of the fireflies rise from the surrounding shrubs and begin a whimsical dance.

This spectacular sight is the result of flight and bioluminescence combined. Want to learn more about fireflies and what makes them so special? Read on for fun facts and how to help attract these beautiful fairy-like insects:

  • The firefly, or sometimes known as lightning bug, is actually not a special fly but rather belongs to the beetle family Lampyridae. Lampyridae in Latin appropriately means “shining fire”.
  • Fireflies use light to communicate. A very unique characteristic in comparison to most animals which use sound.
  • Primarily the light signals are to attract a mate. Male fireflies light up quickly and continuously flash in hopes of attracting a female firefly. The females generally stay lower to the ground in the safety of plants and signal back to the male whose lightshow they find favorable. She also uses light to signal to the male and the brightness of her flash corresponds with her level of interest in the male.
  • Photocytes in the fireflies abdomen produce the light through a 100% efficient chemical reaction of luciferin and luciferase when exposed to oxygen. The firefly controls this reaction by managing the flow of oxygen to its abdomen- this turns the light on and off. Hues of yellow, green, and blue are possible amongst different species.
  • There are 2,000 species of fireflies around the world (except Antarctica) and each has its own unique light qualities that vary depending on sex.
  • The flashing can also be used as a warning signal to ward off predators. The bugs actually have a very bitter taste to most predators which is another deterrent that helps protect them.

Enamored with these shining bugs? You can help attract fireflies to your backyard by planting low trees and shrubs. Fireflies appreciate the shade for daytime shelter. They also like tall grassy meadows, extra long blades of grass are a good perch for them. The bugs also need a good water source so adding a small bird bath to your garden could increase the occurrence of seeing them.

When looking for fireflies it’s easy to remember that they enjoy conditions similar to mosquitos – damp, dim, and moderate weather are all important conditions to consider! Fireflies also prefer to be the strongest light source around, they are most commonly found away from cities and light pollution and in yards without much lighting around the home or streets. Right after the sun sets May through July is the best time to search for fireflies.

Hopefully these facts and tips help encourage you to seek out your next natural lightshow. It won’t be anything short of stunning!

By Bianca Vierra, Contributing Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day