Lightning bugs or Fireflies?

Posted on 18. Jul, 2016 by in World of Wonder, WOW! Blog

OK, I’m a native Southerner, and we call these creatures lightning bugs. Nothing more fun on a hot summer evening than running around with your friends and catching a jar full of lightning bugs. Of course, you punch holes in the lid of the jar, and then you let them all go before you go home. Some people call them fireflies. Whatever you call them they are magical. If you have a lawn and some dark places in your neighborhood I’m sure you’ve seen them.[NOTE:  Photo credit to Michael Gomez Photography,]

Despite their small size and preference for dark places, lightning bugs receive a lot of attention when summer arrives. And there’s a lot more going on than many of us realize…

Their remarkable green and yellow flashing lights have a hypnotic effect on people. Children in particular are drawn to lightning bugs. But the same throbbing glow that attracts youngsters often leads male lightning bugs to their deaths.

In warm-weather months, especially where open meadows and forests coexist, the adult male lightning bugs of most species set out on mating flights in the evening hours. The females, meanwhile, await their mates in the foliage, blinking seductively. The task for each male is to find an unmated female of its own species.

It’s critical that the female be unmated because in many lightning bug species the females change through internal chemistry into man-eaters once they successfully mate. Thereafter they use their blinks to attract meals. Some females even imitate the idiosyncratic blinking patterns of other species in an effort to attract as many unsuspecting males as possible.

It’s a fly-eat-fly world out there!


Alternate name: Lightning Bug or firefly.

Family: Lampyridae, Fireflies view all from this family

Description 3/8-5/8″ (9-15 mm). Elongate, flattened. Head visible from above, eyes large, widely separated. Antennae threadlike. Head and pronotum are dull yellowish, latter with a black spot surrounded by reddish ring. Elytra are brown or gray and have yellow bands along sides near midline and a narrow pale stripe down middle. Both sexes have flashing green light. Larva is spindle-shaped with light organ below abdomen at rear.

Food Soft-bodied insects, snails, slugs, mites; also their own species.

Life Cycle Eggs are concealed singly among rotting wood and humid debris on ground. Larvae hatch in spring. Fully grown larvae overwinter in pupal chambers just below soil surface and pupate the following spring. Adults emerge early summer-late August.

Habitat Meadows and open woods.

Range Atlantic Coast to Texas, north to Manitoba.

Discussion Eggs, larvae, and pupae are all luminous. This firefly flashes its light every 2 or 3 seconds while in flight.


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