Nothing is more magical than being surrounded by the soft glow of twinkling lights on a warm summer’s night. Fireflies – also known as lightning bugs – have an air of mystery and wonder to any garden, backyard, forest, or open field.
Transform your own garden or yard into a wonderland this summer by creating a habitat that will welcome these captivating fairy-like critters.
What are Fireflies?
Before we explore how you can turn your yard into a haven for fireflies, it’s first important to have a bit of background information about these insects so that you can better understand their habitat and diet, and you can then use this key information to attract the friendly, harmless critters to your yard.
Also known as lightning bugs, despite their moniker, fireflies aren’t flies at all; rather, they’re a type of beetle. Like all other beetles, fireflies lay eggs, which hatch to form worm-like larvae. These worms glow in the dark, and as such, they are aptly named “glowworms”.
There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies around the word, and more than 170 known species reside in North America.. They tend to like standing water; therefore, they’re more prevalent near streams, ponds, marshes, lakes, and rivers.
However, they don’t need a lot of water to survive. Small depressions in the ground that hold water (puddles) and vernal pools can most certainly provide all the habitat that fireflies need to thrive. They often live in areas where fields or forests meet water.
Scientists aren’t totally sure what fireflies eat. It’s likely that the larvae feed on different prey than adult fireflies, and the larvae are believed to be carnivorous and munch on small insects, slugs, and snails.
Adult fireflies may also sustain themselves on insects, though it’s believed that they also consume plants and pollen. It is possible, however, that some species of fireflies don’t eat anything at all, as they only live for a few weeks.
Fireflies like tall grass that they can seek shelter in. They’re nocturnal, meaning that they sleep on the ground during the day, and when the sun goes down, they awaken, crawl, and fly. They like to crawl up the long blades of grass to signal for mates.
The long grass conceals the critters and allows them a better vantage point, meaning that they have an easier time seeing and being seen.
Why do Fireflies Glow?
The glow that these flying beetles emit is the feature that makes them so magical and appealing. The light that they emit is known as “bioluminescence”, which they produce naturally. The bioluminescence is the result of two naturally-occurring chemicals found in the body of the firefly: luciferin and luciferase.
When exposed to oxygen, adenosine triphosphate (ATP, a compound that is found in all living things), and other compounds, luciferin and luciferase glow. Luciferin is heat-resistant, while luciferase (a bioluminescent enzyme) generates the light that the beetles are famous for.
As if that wasn’t cool enough, they can control the light! When air is directed to these compounds within the light organ, it can start and stop the bioluminescence on its own.
Males and females can produce this glow, depending on the species. The light is believed to serve a few purposes, but the most notable use is the role it plays during mating season, as they can generate different patterns of light, which can be used to find a suitable mate. Needless to say, the glow that fireflies produce really is quite magical.
Most species of fireflies emit the same yellowish-green glow; however, the color can vary, and the light that some species produce is pure yellow and even orange. The color that the creates produce depends on the luciferase, the bioluminescent enzyme that fireflies produce. Some scientists and firefly researchers have speculated that fireflies produce different colors as a way to adapt to their environment.
The Benefits of Fireflies
Other than the magic and wonder of the flashing light that they produce, fireflies offer a number of other benefits that would certainly be advantageous for your yard:
- Pest control. As noted, fireflies are beetles, the larvae and many species of adult fireflies are carnivorous. It’s believed that they munch on worms, snails, slugs, ants, and other types of arthropods that live within the soil. Fireflies will help to keep creepy crawlies under control.
- Reduce pollen levels. If you are allergic to pollen, fireflies may be able to help reduce the unpleasant symptoms that you experience. Why? Well, because in addition to eating pests, they also eat pollen; lots and lots of pollen.
- They’re conversation starters. Fireflies are absolutely fascinating. The fact that they produce their own glow is fascinating on its own, but then when you consider that the light emits no heat at all, they’re even more fascinating, as they’re literally the most efficient light bulbs on the planet! If you have kiddos or you want to impress adult friends, spark up a conversation about the critters and explore how they create the light that they emit.
As you can see, besides enjoying the wonder and magic of their unique glow, fireflies will bring many benefits to your yard.
How to Turn Your Yard Into a Firefly Haven
So now that you have some background information about fireflies, including their habitat, their diet, and they benefits they provide, there’s no doubt that you’re wondering how to go about inviting these critters into your yard.
Believe it or not, it’s a lot easier than you think. By using a few simple tips, you can effectively invite fireflies into your yard and enjoy their magical glow and the other wonderful advantages that they provide. So, without further ado, let’s explore how you can turn your yard into a welcoming haven for these fascinating creatures.
The Dimmer the Better
Fireflies don’t like artificial light, as it disrupts their ability to use the natural light that they produce to communicate with one another. As such, the less synthetic light in your yard, the better. Their critters tend to arrive in the early summer, so try to keep your lights turned off at this time of year.
Just Say No to Chemicals
No one likes weeds and pests, and there are lots of chemicals that you can use to keep these things at-bay, which may help to make your yard look more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to use, pesticides and weed killers can also keep a lot of good things away, too – like fireflies!
As a matter of fact, the insane use of pesticides in the United States is one of the key reasons why firefly populations have been on the decline in recent years. To make your yard a welcoming space for these glowing creatures, limit your use of chemicals. Instead, explore natural weed and pest deterrents.
Just Add Water
As noted above, fireflies love water. They tend to live in areas where even small amounts of water are present. Therefore, if you want to attract them to your yard, bring in a water feature. Things like fountains, pools, ponds, or even a few bird baths will help to attract them.
Cut Back on Mowing
While you may like to keep your grass neat and tidy, the thing is, mowing too frequently will actually deter fireflies. That’s because they like tall grass, as they hide in it and climb to the top of the blades when they’re searching for mates.
Therefore, if you mow your lawn frequently, it’s likely that your yard will never glow. Cut back on the amount you mow your lawn during firefly season; at least for a few weeks in the early summer. When firefly season comes to an end, you can return to your regularly scheduled mowing program.
Don’t Bother Them
Catching fireflies is an age-old pastime for kids (and kids-at-heart), and that’s totally understandable; they glow that they produce is captivating, and catching them in jars and examining the critters is so tempting. If you want to flood your yard with fireflies, however, you’re going to want to resist the temptation of catching them.
Put yourself in a firefly’s shoes: If you saw that your neighbors were being snatched up by giants, you’d probably pack up shop and find a new place to call home. That said, resist the urge to catch them; instead, spread out a blanket on the ground, sit or lay down with your kids in your yard and watch in wonder as dozens of fireflies flock to your yard and light up the night sky.
Turn the opportunity into a teachable moment; ask your little ones how they think fireflies produce their glow, discuss their ideas, and then explain the real reason they are able to naturally emit light and why.
Arguably, the most magical part of early summer nights is seeing the blinking lights of fireflies. By employing the tips and strategies that were outlined above, you can turn your yard into a firefly wonderland and maximize your enjoyment that these unique creatures bring.