Closed for June IV — Fireflies

Note: Most links leave to external sites.

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady is getting ready for the annual firefly show (for BugFan Tom in the Deep South, the show’s almost over). She has been seeing day-flying fireflies in the air in the wetlands she visits – for more about day-flying fireflies and about firefly natural history (after 5 years, not all of the links work).

Firefly on a leaf.

Most important question first – are they fireflies or lightning bugs? This is, of course, a question of great scholarly debate, and it was one of the questions on the wonderful, interactive Harvard American dialect survey of a decade ago. Turns out that the “firefly” of the West, Western Upper Great Lakes, and New England is the “lightning bug” of the South and much of the Midwest.

Beetle larva.

Purists, of course, know that these are neither bugs nor flies, and that the term “lightning beetle” is more appropriate. They’re in the family Lampyridae.

Here are two articles about lightning beetles: “Illuminating science behind fireflies” and “Tens of thousands of synchronous fireflies will soon flash in unison

Lightning beetle on a leaf.
Lightning beetle on a leaf.

Identifying fireflies isn’t quite as much fun as watching them. Not everything with a colorful, shield-shaped thorax is a lightning beetle – there are some species in the closely-related Soldier beetle family (Cantharidae) that do a pretty impressive job of mimicking fireflies [1, 2, 3] and every time the BugLady looks through her firefly pictures, she finds a ringer. She recommends Fireflies, Glow-worms and Lightning Bugs by Lynn Frierson Faust. The BugLady tried to ID these to genus – fingers crossed.

Firefly on a leaf.

Go outside. Look for fireflies (and if you catch them, release them in a timely fashion).

The BugLady