Twinkle, Twinkle Backyard Firefly

When I was little, I used to love watching fireflies on warm summer nights, catching them in my hands, and of course putting them in a jar and being mesmerized by them just a little while longer before releasing them to continue on their journey.  As I grew up, I saw less and less fireflies each year until eventually I didn’t see anymore.  They were all but gone from my hometown and still are except for occasional sightings outside the city limits.  Later, I learned that it was probably large trucks spraying for mosquitoes throughout neighborhoods that wiped out the firefly populations.  Although, the spraying stopped happening years ago, the fireflies haven’t returned.  The pesticides in addition to habitat loss, light pollution, and development have all contributed to this loss.  

When I moved to Athens and saw fireflies in my backyard, I was overjoyed.  It had been so long since I had seen them and I could not stop smiling.  I sat outside every night just to watch their magical flight once again.  Now, I eagerly await their return each spring.

How to Provide the Right Habitat for Fireflies in Your Backyard:

  • Provide Trees and Shrubs-at night they crawl up grass blades and fly into tree branches to signal for mates. Often the male will fly, while females wait in trees, shrubs and grasses to spot an attractive male.
  • Plant Tall Grasses or Don’t Over-Mow the Lawn-they spend most of their day on the ground and in tall grass which keeps them cool, conceals them, and gives them a good location for signaling at night
  • Leave Tree Limbs and Leaves on the Ground-they provide food for firefly larvae 
  • Provide Fresh Water-crucial to firefly populations because they thrive in humid, warm environments and even small amounts can meet their needs during mating season.
  • Reduce Light Pollution-turn off outside lights at night because they can interfere with firefly flashing to attract mates, defend territory, attract prey, and warn off predators.  
  • Avoid using Chemical Pesticides and Fertilizers-they can kill fireflies and their prey


Fun Facts:

  • Fireflies or Lightning Bugs are actually winged beetles
  • 2000 species are found on most continents and each has a unique luminous pattern
  • In the U.S., fireflies mostly live east of Kansas
  • Fireflies lay their eggs in the ground
  • Larvae feed on worms, snails, and slugs that live under logs and in leaf litter
  • Larvae hibernate over the winter
  • Adults probably feed on nectar, pollen, insects, or eat nothing due to a short life span
  • Adult life spans only last a few weeks to 2 months
  • Taste nasty to predators
  • Medically and scientifically useful
  • Most efficient lights in the world-100% of their energy is emitted as light instead of heat

References used: ; ;

By Robin Woodroof