Lifestyle & Seasonal

Fun with fireflies

These little light-up bugs bring delight to summer nights. Here’s a few ways to celebrate their arrival.

The airborne bioluminescent beetle called the firefly or lightning bug (official name Lampyridae) surely captures our imagination. Movies, music festivals, operas and comic book characters all carry the “firefly” moniker. Festivals, crafts and activities for the whole family center on the fireflies which pepper our backyards with tiny points of light. Here are a few interesting firefly events and activities you can try.

Organized Events

Tennessee Synchronous Fireflies

There’s a psychological illusion called the “Phi Phenomenon” where the viewer perceives movement in blinking lights, as if the lights are synchronized to music or purposely made to travel down a line. In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of Tennessee, during May and June every year, it’s no illusion. A species of fireflies found in the park actually does match up its flash patterns. Thought to be a display for reproductive purposes, this insect dance party brings so many visitors to the park that the rangers conduct a lottery for parking passes.

Arlington VA Fun for kids

Fort C.F. Smith Park has an educational night for kids ages 3 and up. Children come with parents before sundown for a picnic dinner and anticipation of a night full of firefly fun and information.

Missouri Botanical Gardens

The Butterfly House at this private reserve gets decorated in tiny twinkle lights to tickle the kids’ fancy, then a night hunt outdoors for lightning bugs follows.

Many parks and private, admission-entry gardens and conservatories along the northeast corridor have similar lightning bug activities, so make sure to check your local and national parks. Lightning bugs prefer wet and wooded areas, so a bit of travel may be required if you live in an urban area.

Home Activities

Get them in your garden

Keeping the grass high and moist will invite fireflies to rest in the tall blades during the daytime. Also, leafy plants that provide shade are preferred hiding places for lightning bugs. A note of caution: spraying the landscape or patio with insect repellent will repel and kill fireflies. If you want to have fireflies in the yard, it’s best to apply insect repellent to your skin and clothes instead of the entire yard.


Jar jar blinks

Collecting fireflies in a jar is the quintessential summer night activity for kids. Get a short mason jar and place a wet paper towel in the bottom (fireflies get dried out quickly. The moisture will keep them comfy for a few hours until they are released). Everyone has their own method for scooping up the bugs and freeing them. Be gentle and always practice humane catch-and-release.

Picture this

Shooting lightning requires a patient photographer. Photographing lightning bugs requires the same willingness to sit and wait. A tripod with a DSLR perched on your patio or on the lawn is the best idea. Mobile phones won’t typically capture the scene, as the firefly bioluminescence is too low. Turn off all outdoor lighting and keep still. A remote shutter button helps prevent vibration and is especially essential if time-lapse photography, which will produce streaks of the fireflies’ flight paths, is your goal.


No fireflies? No problem

Arts and crafts to the rescue! Craft sites have many firefly-centered activities to choose from. Glow-in-the-dark sticks, paint and chalk can boost the fun factor for any firefly craft project. Real lights are possible, too. LED flashers are safe and super simple to make stuff with. An easy high-tech lightning bug project is a firefly jar lamp made with LED lights and an Arduino board. Read up on buying an Arduino board and dive into 21st century crafts.

Anyway you do it, celebrating fireflies is a summer must. Plan your own lightning bug bash before time flies away from you.

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