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Four Firefly Facts

I am fascinated by fireflies. I saw them for the first time only three years ago, during my first summer in the United States. Hal and I were camping in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. It was past ten in the evening when I emerged from the tent and stood up. All around me tiny creatures were lighting up the dark forest. I felt like I was in a fairytale.

Since that day we make sure our yard is prime habitat for lightning bugs. Fireflies are disappearing due to habitat encroachment. If you want to help them survive, read  how to help fireflies.

Fireflies mating
Fireflies mating

So, lightning bugs light up at dusk. But, what else do you know about fireflies?

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To learn more about fireflies, the book Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs: Identification and Natural History of the Fireflies of the Eastern and Central United States and Canada is a must!  


These insects are actually beetles belonging to the family Lampyridae. A whopping 2,000 species of firefly have been recorded.

Ligthen Up!

Do you know how fireflies produce their glow?

Before dusk fireflies can be found resting on leaves
Before dusk fireflies can be found resting on leaves

Fireflies have dedicated light organs, called lanterns, located under their abdomens. Here, in the presence of the enzyme luciferase, oxygen is combined with the substance luciferin to produce energy in the form of light. The light produced is called “cold light” as almost 100% of the energy given is in the form of light. In comparison, an incandescent light bulb’s energy is 10% light and 90% heat.

In some lightning bug species, the eggs and larvae also produce a glow in response to vibrations.

Are You Talking to Me?

Like any other animal, fireflies need a language to communicate with each other. However, lighting bugs don’t use a spoken language or any kind of acoustic signal to find a mate. Their language is comprised of visual signals, a combination of blinking flashes in various patterns. Each firefly species has its own language. However, some species don’t produce any light at all and communicate entirely with pheromones.

In some species, only one sex is known to glow. But in most, both sexes emit light. While the glowing males fly by, a female will rest and wait in a nearby tree or shrub until she spots a male she likes. Then she’ll answer with a flash of her own.

Feeding the Fire

Larvae (the young stage of fireflies) live underground and feed on worms and slugs. Adult fireflies usually feed on nectar or pollen, though some adults may not feed at all.

Yet other adults may even practice cannibalism.

Our cat Sadie loves to watch fireflies
Watching fireflies is one of our cats favorite pastimes

 Do you have fireflies where you live?

Cristina Garcia

Zoologist and wildlife photographer. She has worked in the field with jackals, wolves, cheetahs, & leopards. She serves on the Board of Directors of SEE Turtles, a non-profit sea turtle conservation organization.

Read her posts at Travel For Wildlife and see more of her work at Truly Wild, & Our Wild Yard.


Tuesday 11th of February 2014

I have an upcoming science fair project and I really want to investigate fireflies. We won't be exploiting or killing them, we just need them as proof that their light does actually shine and then we could let them go or send them back to where they could survive again. I hope any of you can help me with information concerning where and how I could get them because I live in Namibia, Africa and there aren't any here in namibia. Please do email me at if you could help in any way. Thank u much : )


Wednesday 10th of July 2013

There used to be a lot of fireflies in Cangmangki in the town of Enrique Villanueva in the island of Siquijor, Philippines when I was still a kid (back in the early 80s). Then they were gone. But when I went back to live in the village (my family migrated just before I started going to school) and work in the island in 2005 til 2009, a few fireflies can be seen where I live. Since I was living alone and didn't have TV or radio, fireflies were my entertainment. I'd just stare at them until I dozed off to sleep. (The gentle lapping of the waves at low tide also lulled me to sleep.)


Friday 5th of July 2013

I grew up enjoying fireflies but don't see them in the SW. I was absolutely giddy when I saw them in South Africa. I am saddened by their population decline.

Cristina Garcia

Friday 5th of July 2013

You saw them in South Africa? I've never seen them over there!


Friday 5th of July 2013

So fascinating! I just saw one today in my garden and loved it...summer is the season when they come out, and now I know a bit more about them. thanks to you!

Cristina Garcia

Friday 5th of July 2013

Thanks Charu! I absolutely love them!