Today’s topic is fireflies. No not Firefly, the space western television series, but insects that glow. It is June and the Science Circle is preparing for it’s Summer Holiday during July and August. I always look for a lighthearted topic for my June column knowing that I’ll not be back until September. That reminds me of a song. One that is not about fireflies but there are links to it in the references.
I wait eagerly for May to see the fireflies twinkling in my woods. They create magic and make my heart sing. That’s not scientific but, darn it, wonder and mystery are as much a part of the universe as stars, string theory and Issac Newton.
Now for the scientific part. Fireflies, like much of the animal kingdom, are appearing in fewer numbers every year. This is due to loss of habitat which is caused by:
- Cutting woods and paving fields.
- Growing foreign grasses, Bermuda grass for example.
- Using chemicals to kill weeds (weeds are mostly native plants).
- Using fertilizers (use compost instead).
- Mowing the grass every week.
- Raking leaves.
All these activities make it difficult for fireflies to live. Fireflies are only a winged insect with a glowing tail for a few weeks in May and June. It’s the male firefly who has a glowing tail to attract a female and the female lays her eggs in leaf mold. The larva that hatch eat other insects that live in the leaf mold and damp grasses. When that habitat is removed, then there are no adult fireflies to delight the senses.
What can you do? Here are a few suggestions.
- Tear out your lawn and plant native grasses, forbs and wild flowers.
- Don’t cut the resulting meadow. Let it all go to seed and cut in the Fall if you must.
- If a lawn is required then plant native, low growing grasses, e.g., Buffalograss, Blue Grama or Curly Mesquite.
- Don’t rake up leaves. Sweep them back under the trees to build layers of leaf mold.
- Plant only native trees and shrubs.
- Provide water for animals. Animals (birds, squirrels, etc.) create diversity and encourage insects.
- Build brush piles of tree branches and leaves to provide shelter for animals.
- Have your land certified as a Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
Tonight, take a look in your backyard and if there are fireflies, delight in a wonder of nature. Have a happy Summer.
As an aside: If you don’t have any fireflies nearby. I have rezzed a firefly particle emitter at my Science Circle Demonstration Area. Look into the big tree on the left as you arrive.
- Firefly (TV series), Wikipedia.
- See You in September, The Happenings (1966), YouTube.
- See You in September, Tempos (1959), YouTube.
- Lord of the Fireflies, Madeline Bodin, Smithsonian Magazine, June 2023, 32-41.
- Can We Re Populate Our Lightning Bugs, Gardens Alive.
- Citizen Science Project to Track Lightning Bug Sightings, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
- Utah Firefly Citizen Science Project (now Western Firefly Project), Natural History Museum of Utah. Firefly photo on this page is from this web site.
- Native American Seed, A source for natives grasses, wild flowers and ecological restoration.
- 13 ways to build your humane backyard, Humane Society.
- National Wildlife Federation