by Kirsten Holt, Manager of Education & Interpretation
They come out at night. They fly. They glow. They’re recognized by some as “fireflies”, by others as “lightning bugs”, and they’re called countless additional names throughout the world. Many of us in the Northeastern United States spent summer nights as children capturing these insects and watching the light bounce off the glass jars before releasing them back to the woods and meadows. Those lucky enough to live in the few isolated areas throughout the world (perhaps the Great Smoky Mountains, or the Southeast Asia mangrove forests) may have seen the rare species of fireflies that flash in synchrony. This insect has given us memories of childhood bliss, and now it’s time to understand this creature a bit more, and to give back the firefly its home.
There has been evidence that firefly numbers are in decline. This insect, which is actually neither “bug” nor “fly”, has a complex life history that is sensitive to human disturbance. All fireflies are beetles that fall within the Lampyridae family. They spend much of their lifecycle as an egg, or larvae, in the leaf litter of the damp forest floor, or stream and pond edges. Manicured lawns, paved surfaces, and deforestation create less habitat for the insect to lay eggs, or to let them reach its adult stage. While some species of firefly produce light in all stages (the larval stage of a firefly can sometimes be called a “glowworm”), there is preliminary research claiming that harsh artificial light created by humans disrupt the flash patterns of fireflies. Those flash patterns are produced by combining oxygen with a substance called luciferin, located in the abdomen of the beetle, creating cold light. This cold light is the most efficient light known, losing almost no energy to heat, and is used by the firefly to attract a mate. Each flash pattern is different depending on the species of firefly, and there are a lot of species.
Within the Lampyridae family, there are over 2,000 species known to exist, including species that are not nocturnal, and do not produce light. New Jersey is thought to be home to 19 different species, with the Pennsylvania firefly (Photuris pensylvanica), the Eastern firefly (Photinus pyralis) and the Pyractomena species being the most common. By eliminating the use of pesticides, reducing the amount of artificial light in your yard, and planting native grasses and trees, you can help these native species return to, and thrive, in your community.
Fireflies are collectively recognized as a symbol of summer nights, and each year their importance and magic are recognized during the Duke Farms Firefly events. Join families, enthusiasts, citizen scientists, and professionals who have studied these creatures for years by attending this extraordinary summer event. Duke Farms has three events this year depending on your interest level.
Friday, July 1 & Saturday, July 2: Firefly Photography This fun 2-day workshop with master photographer Dave Blinder will guide you through techniques that are used to photograph fireflies effectively as they navigate the night sky. Workshop Schedule: Friday, July 1, 7 to 10PM & Saturday, July 2, 1 to 4PM. Cost: $75 for both nights. Register Here
Thursday, July 7: Duke Farms After Dark-Fireflies! Don Salvatore, of the Museum of Science, will be joining us to discuss the citizen science initiative called “Firefly Watch” and then taking you into the field where several observation and explorations stations will be set up for you to experience the magic of this bioluminescent creature. Cost: $10 per person. Appropriate for ages 16 and up. Register Here
Friday, July 8 & Saturday, July 9: Duke Farms’ Annual Firefly Festival During this family-friendly event participants will meander along 1.5 miles of trails taking them through woodlands, meadows and along lakeshores to get a glimpse of fireflies in action. They will investigate activity stations along the way where they will learn to communicate with fireflies, discover what a glowworm is, learn what it takes to create a home for fireflies in their backyard, and much more! Cost: FREE! We ask that you please register in advance to help us plan for the event. Register Here
Be a Citizen Scientist! Help scientists by recording the firefly occurrences in your community by participating in the Museum of Science’s “Firefly Watch” project: https://legacy.mos.org/fireflywatch/
Additional information on fireflies can be found at: