How To Attract Fireflies To Your Yard

As a kid growing up in the midwest, the arrival of brief, glowing streaks of light around the yard at night signaled the real arrival of summer. My friends and I would catch fireflies, sometimes referred to as lightning bugs, and keep them in a jar, letting them illuminate our bedrooms at night. But since those glory days of around 25 years ago, researchers have found that the humble firefly is disappearing. Why is this happening? Let’s explore the disappearance of fireflies and how we can begin bringing them back from the brink.

What are fireflies?

Fireflies are not flies at all. They are a beetle belonging to the Lampyridae family of insects containing 2,000 described species, many of which produce endogenous light. The firefly goes by a few names, including glow worms and lightning bugs. Their light can be seen often during twilight and is used to attract mates. The male beetles fly somewhat near the ground, using their light to signal females, which don’t fly. The females signal back to the males to attract them.

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Where do they live?

In the United States, fireflies aren’t found in all fifty states. They are most common in the midwest, southeast, and northeastern parts of the country. Their primary habitat extends westward into the plains states but ends before reaching Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. There are some pockets of fireflies that can be found in the American Southwest, but they are considered to be pretty rare since these areas are more arid. Fireflies thrive in damp environments.

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Why do they glow?

firefly

Fireflies glow using a chemical process of bioluminescence. On the lower abdomen of the beetle, a special light-emitting organ creates light. To break down the sciencey stuff, an enzyme called luciferase acts on luciferin, an organic compound, in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen. This chemical reaction results in the production of light. Fireflies actually have a special trachea that brings oxygen into the abdomen in order for this chemical reaction to occur.

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What attracts fireflies?

There are a few things you can do to bring these fascinating beetles to your yard. The first, and possibly most important thing you can do is to grow an organic lawn and let it get a bit longer. Spraying pesticides kills female fireflies and their larvae, and mowing excessively destroys vital habitats for fireflies.

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Fireflies are also drawn to damp areas. Providing a safe source of water, one with an easy place to land, will help attract them to your property. Planting native pine trees, as well as ample native flowers, will help give these beetles a safe place to live and collect nectar, which is an important food source for adults.

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Finally, reducing light pollution on your property will give fireflies plenty of opportunities to find mates and make more larvae. Excessive light pollution makes it difficult for fireflies to find one another.

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What do fireflies eat?

When it comes to dinner time, the firefly can be a pretty tough customer. In their larval stage, they eat snails, worms, and slugs by injecting them with a numbing chemical to disable them. Some species of firefly don’t eat anything once they reach adulthood, while others will eat nectar, pollen, and in some cases, other adult fireflies.

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Certify your firefly habitat

If you’ve done everything right and want to take it a step further, you can actually have your property certified as a firefly habitat! A nonprofit organization called Firefly Conservation & Research was founded in May of 2022 to help average people turn their yards into certified firefly habitats.

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“Fireflies are on the decline in many parts of the world,” said Ben Pfeiffer, the organization’s founder, in a statement. “While the specific causes of decline vary by location, many are likely to be driven by habitat degradation and loss, light pollution, pesticide use, and climate change. This program helps people of all ages share our mission to protect, restore, and enhance firefly habitats.”

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In order to receive the certification, you have to meet four main criteria:

  • Providing appropriate undisturbed cover for fireflies
  • Plant a diverse, native garden
  • Reduce light pollution
  • Restrict the use of pesticides.

The certification costs $45 and comes with an aluminum sign as well as a downloadable guide to help you maintain your certified firefly habitat.

Thomas Nelson
Environmental Advocate
Thomas is an environmental advocate currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. In his spare time, he enjoys experiencing the outdoors, raising chickens and ducks, and reading about current environmental issues. Despite slight colorblindness, his favorite color is green.
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