Attract Fireflies to Your Property

Fireflies provide one of nature’s neatest light shows. Learn how to turn your urban property into a natural firefly habitat so you can enjoy their flashy displays all summer long.

| July/August 2018

  • fireflies
    Fireflies produce "cold light," meaning their production of light is 100 percent efficient.
    Photo by Getty Images/huePhotography
  • firefly refuge garden
    The author’s garden, though located in an urban area, has a variety of trees, shrubs, and heavy ground cover, making it an ideal firefly refuge.
    Photo by Dr. Gary Noel Ross
  • young firefly
    Slow growers, firefly young can take one to two years to fully develop into the adult form we’re familiar with.
    Photo by Bryan E. Reynolds
  • firefly
    Fireflies avoid light, look for them to appear around twilight in areas with little natural or artificial lighting.
    Photo by Bryan E. Reynolds
  • Firefly Habitat
    Seek out natural areas to find inspiration for creating your own firefly habitat. Minimal artificial light, plenty of shaded ground, and little human or animal interference are a good start.
    Photo by Getty Images/tdub303
  • Eastern Firefly
    Eastern firefly (Photinus pyralis).
    Photo by Getty Images/ivkuzmin
  • gritty
    Gritty loves to catch fireflies in the summertime.
    Photo by Brad Anderson Illustration

  • fireflies
  • firefly refuge garden
  • young firefly
  • firefly
  • Firefly Habitat
  • Eastern Firefly
  • gritty

On my 77th birthday, in May of 2017, I opted to remain alone at my urban home to work a bit on my favorite hobby — a sizable streetside flower garden for butterflies and other pollinators. By dusk I had decided to retire early. First, however, I returned to my colorful garden to experience one last visual treat for my psyche.

Surprise! The fading light was punctuated by a dozen or so flashing pinpoints of light — yellowish white with a neon-like glow. As an entomologist, I knew that such pyrotechnics could be produced by only one thing: fireflies. But I hadn't observed these harmless and charismatic insects that herald summer on my premises for at least the previous four decades. Now, on this special evening, I felt as though I somehow had been transported back in time.

This resurgence of fireflies was personally poignant — and not just because of my birthday. You see, in 1973, when I built my first and only house in a new neighborhood that was being carved from a small patch of woodland on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, I tried to retain a natural look to the property. To do so, I landscaped my 1-acre tract as an urban wildlife garden based on the National Wildlife Federation's Certified Wildlife Habitat program. (My property is certified #4373.) Back then, fireflies were common. How well I remember walking outside on summer evenings for nature's post-dinner entertainment. The silent blinks always triggered an upwelling of serenity and relaxation. By the early 1980s, however, most of the vacant plots in my neighborhood had been developed, leaving my property the only vestige of nature. Alas, such was not sufficient to sustain a viable population of fireflies. My pre-bedtime elixir was no more.

And I wasn't alone. Turns out various news media were reporting that fireflies had disappeared from urban areas around the country. "Where have all the fireflies gone?" was a lamentation commonly addressed to nature journalists, and to me by my neighbors. But now the firefly pendulum has seemingly swung back. In response, I decided to gather some empirical data as a new research project.



Firefly facts

Fireflies are the lightning bugs of our nostalgic childhood. Remember how on summer evenings we used to catch these blinking "fairies" to put into a jar so they could light up our bedrooms? In truth, fireflies are neither flies nor bugs, but rather beetles of the order Coleoptera in the family Lampyridae (the name refers to fire). No fewer than 200 species have been documented within the U.S., and there are about 2,000 documented species worldwide.

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a distinct species known as the synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) puts on a unique performance for a few weeks each spring at evening twilight. Thousands of the insects emerge in a forested cove to produce synchronous flickers reminiscent of a magical land of fairies. The National Park Service has even instituted a lottery system to control the number of visitors allowed to enter the park each evening to witness the display.

Andy
6/25/2018 11:19:20 AM

Living in one of the coastal cities of Southern California nearly all my life, I had seen fireflies only in magazines or in nature programs on TV. Then in the late 1990s I visited my sister who had moved to a Hartford suburb in Connecticut, and got the treat of a lifetime! The beautiful little glowing creatures decorated her yard just about every night during my stay, and throughout that summer. I couldn't believe my eyes! It was almost like witnessing Big Foot! My sis had no garden but thick, tall grass, with shrubs between her yard and the sidewalk. It was what I would call an urban neighborhood, but, very lush tree-lined streets, with a wooded park a few blocks away. It was the most exciting part of my first stay in New England, my strongest memory. I love my hometown, but I don't hold much hope of ever experiencing fireflies here.


Andy
6/25/2018 11:12:50 AM

Living in one of the coastal cities of Southern California nearly all my life, I had seen fireflies only in magazines or in nature programs on TV. Then in the late 1990s I visited my sister who had moved to a Hartford suburb in Connecticut, and got the treat of a lifetime! The beautiful little glowing creatures decorated her yard just about every night during my stay, and throughout that summer. I couldn't believe my eyes! It was almost like witnessing Big Foot! My sis had no garden but thick, tall grass, with shrubs between her yard and the sidewalk. It was what I would call an urban neighborhood, but, very lush tree-lined streets, with a wooded park a few blocks away. It was the most exciting part of my first stay in New England, my strongest memory. I love my hometown, but I don't hold much hope of ever experiencing fireflies here.


MichelleZ
6/25/2018 7:57:45 AM

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DON'T PLANT ivy or Asiatic jasmine. they are highly INVASIVE and crowd out native species. You can attract fireflies with hundreds of other plants that won't kill off everything else in your yard and eat your house!! I live in the South and we are having a terrible time with people who planted English ivy decades ago now destroying our woodlands -- it covers trees and robs them of light, just like kudzu. Asiatic jasmine is just as bad.







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