Fireflies: Nature’s Flashlights


Fireflies: Nature’s Flashlights

By: Joan Banks

On a warm summer evening, fireflies twinkle in a small grove of trees near my house. It's almost as if Christmas has arrived in the summertime.  

Fireflies' lights are produced by a chemical process called bioluminescence. When the chemicals combine in special cells on their abdomens, the lights go on. There are over 2,000 identified species of fireflies and not all of them light up.  Some simply glow. But the ones in our area do light up, and are often called lightning bugs. In spite of their common names, these insects aren't flies or bugs. They are members of the beetle family.

To us, this phenomenon simply looks like a tiny flash in the night, but to a firefly of the opposite sex, the light sends a message and an implicit question: I'm here. Where are you?  It might be a matter of the timing of the flashes, the duration, or even the color, but a firefly of the same species and of the opposite sex gets the message and flashes an answer that, in essence, says, I'm here.   

Once a female has mated, she lays her fertilized eggs just below the surface of the ground.  Three or four weeks later they hatch and spend the rest of the summer as larva, eating snails, worms, and other insects.  They hibernate over the winter and then emerge in the spring to eat.  Next, they enter an intermediate, or pupal, stage before surfacing as adults. As adults, they may eat again (mostly feeding on pollen and nectar, but perhaps other fireflies). Some adult species eat nothing at all. Then it's time to turn on the "love" lights and find a mate.

More research needs to be done on fireflies so we can find out how they are faring in an increasingly developed environment.  You can help. Massachusetts Audubon Society is teaming up with Tufts University and people like you to find out if fireflies are in trouble.  If you would like to set aside ten minutes a week to observe fireflies in your area, you can participate in this Citizen Science project. For more information, go to this link.

Meanwhile, if you have fireflies in your yard, take care of their habitat by keeping natural areas undisturbed. Don't till the soil where there may be eggs or larvae.  Refrain from using broadcast lawn and garden chemicals.  Turn off outdoor lights at night because light pollution is considered to be one reason for dwindling numbers of fireflies.  Advocate for dark sky with your neighbors.  And as you help fireflies, "May the Forest Be with You."

Joan Banks' first freelance sale was an article about chiggers for the Dallas Morning News. From there, she went on to write nature articles for Ranger Rick, National Geographic World (later NG Kids) and Missouri Conservationist. She contributes regularly to Harris Farmer's and Gardening Almanacs. Her new passion is quilt art, where she continues to draw upon nature themes.

Come to Joplin’s Earth and Arbor Day event on Saturday, April 27th

from 10AM – 1PM at Landreth Park

to learn more, get the tools you need, and have fun.

  • To discover some of the tiny water critters that reside in local streams and what they can tell us about water quality, join us at 12:00, April 27th,  at the  Earth & Arbor Day celebration in Landreth Park for a sample Biological Water Quality Testing Demo, stream side of Joplin Creek!

  • Find this event on Facebook and sign up for the 5K and the Stream side Litter Pickup Project:

  • Looking for your family or your group's Earth Day contribution? Team Up to Clean Up and Join The Forces to compete in the Earth & Arbor Day team litter cleanup event.  Joplin Creek cleanup will be held at Landreth Park, on April 27, 2019. Form your team, learn more, and register here:

    Pitching in and cleaning up some trash is an easy way for anyone to help out. 

Wildcat Glades MayTheForestBeWithYou flyer (1)Final.jpg
Posted on April 20, 2019 .