Bug Facts

What exactly are lightning bugs?

Fireflies are familiar, but few realize that these insects are actually beetles, nocturnal members of the family Lampyridae. Most fireflies are winged, which distinguishes them from other luminescent insects of the same family, commonly known as glowworms.

There are about 2,000 firefly species. These insects live in a variety of warm environments, as well as in more temperate

Photo courtesy firefly.org

regions, and are a familiar sight on summer evenings. Fireflies love moisture and often live in humid regions of Asia and the Americas. In drier areas, they are found around wet or damp areas that retain moisture.

Everyone knows how fireflies got their name, but many people don’t know how the insects produce their signature glow. Fireflies have dedicated light organs that are located under their abdomens. The insects take in oxygen and, inside special cells, combine it with a substance called luciferin to produce light with almost no heat.

Firefly light is usually intermittent, and flashes in patterns that are unique to each species. Each blinking pattern is an optical signal that helps fireflies find potential mates. Scientists are not sure how the insects regulate this process to turn their lights on and off.

Firefly light may also serve as a defense mechanism that flashes a clear warning of the insect’s unappetizing taste. The fact that even larvae are luminescent lends support to this theory.

Females deposit their eggs in the ground, which is where larvae develop to adulthood. Underground larvae feed on worms and slugs by injecting them with a numbing fluid.

Adults eschew such prey and typically feed on nectar or pollen, though some adults do not eat at all.

A special thanks to National Geographic for this information. If you liked the article and want to learn about other interesting bugs, check out the National Geographic website.

What do lightning bugs eat?

There are many misconceptions about lightning bugs, which are often referred to as fireflies. First of all, these bugs are actually beetles, which makes the firefly name a misnomer. While many people believe they are simply

Lightning Bug larva live in moist places and eat a variety of food - including other lightning bug larvae. Photo by Gerald J. Lenhard, Louiana State Univ, Bugwood.org

for our nighttime enjoyment, their lighting chemicals have actually been used quite practically in the medical field. Lastly, these pretty flashing bugs are quite predatory in both their larvae and adult stages.

Earthworms, Snails, and Slugs

The larvae of lightning bugs tend to live in moist, swampy places; on the ground; or underneath bark. Larvae follow the trails left by snails, earthworms and slugs and hunt them for food. The larvae use their mandibles to inject a poison that paralyzes the unfortunate victim. This poison is a sort of digestive chemical that begins to liquefy the organs of the insect. The larvae slurp out the liquefied insides of the bugs and leave the bugs as a hollowed-out shell. Some larvae will also scavenge dead animals and insects when no live ones are available.

Lightning Bug Larvae

When trying to raise lightning bugs, it is best to keep the bugs in separate jars. This is because the larvae will attempt to feed on each other. Using the same methods as they would with earthworms, the stronger larvae will paralyze and eat the insides of other larvae. This can occur in captivity and in the wild.

Male Lightning Bugs

There are many different species of lightning bugs and some predatory lightning bugs take advantage of this fact. When lightning bugs mate, it is a dialogue between a male and a female that involves a specific pattern of lights. This pattern indicates if two lightning bugs are of the same species. A lightning bug can give out a false light signal, though, that mimics the female of another species. This causes a male lightning bug to approach. The bug that has tricked the other bug then attacks the confused male with poison and proceeds to eat him.

Honey, Pollen, Flowers

Lightning bugs are more likely to attack another lightning bug for prey than to eat other less lethal food items in the wild. Some species of lightning bugs do eat other items though, including honey, pollen and flowers. If a lightning bug is captured and honey is put in front of him, he will eat it and then attempt to fly away.


Some lightning bugs are actually hardwired not to eat anything at all. These species of lightning bugs have adapted to not eating at all, and their purpose is simply to mate. While this is a strange adaptation, perhaps it is meant to keep the population of that species at a minimum to preserve the food chain.

You can read more at eHow.com.

Why Are Fireflies Disappearing?

Nobody knows for sure. But most researchers blame two main factors: development and light pollution.

Most species of fireflies thrive as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter at the margins of ponds and streams. And as they grow, they more or less stay where they were born. Some species are more aquatic than others, and a few are found in more arid areas—but most are found in fields, forests and marshes. Their

Fireflies and lightning bugs are one and the same, but it seems they're referred more as lightning bugs. Shown above is the top dorsal view of Photinus sp. (Photo by David Cappaert, http://www.forestryimages.org)

environment of choice is warm, humid and near standing water of some kind—ponds, streams and rivers, or even shallow depressions that retain water longer than the surrounding ground.

The problem is that in America and throughout the world, our open fields and forests are being paved over, and our waterways are seeing more development and noisy boat traffic. As their habitat disappears under housing and commercial developments, firefly numbers dwindle. Logging, pollution and increased use of pesticides may also contribute to destroying firefly habitat and natural prey.

Human traffic is believed to disrupt firefly habitat as well. While scientific studies have only been done for the past few years, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence in areas that were once full of fireflies—and much of it goes back generations. Some areas once had so many fireflies that they profited from running firefly tours in marshes and forests—but since human traffic has increased, firefly populations have gone down.

Too Much Light

Scientists don’t know enough about fireflies to tell for sure. But the signs are indicating light pollution as a major factor in the disappearance of fireflies all over the world.

Both male and female fireflies use their flashing lights to communicate. Some species synchronize their flashes, sometimes across large groups of thousands of insects. All species speak a language of light—scientists believe they use it to attract mates, defend their territory, and warn off predators.

Human light pollution is believed to interrupt firefly flash patterns. Scientists have observed that synchronous fireflies get out of synch for a few minutes after a car’s headlights pass. Light from homes, cars, stores, and streetlights may all make it difficult for fireflies to signal each other during mating—meaning fewer firefly larvae are born next season.

Where fireflies once had uninterrupted forests and fields to live and mate, homes with landscaped lawns and lots of exterior lights are taking over. The reduction of habitat and the increase in lighting at night may all be contributing to make fireflies more rare.

Fireflies are fascinating creatures that light up our nights and bring a sense of magic and mystery to our environment. If they disappear, it will be a great loss to habitats and generations of people all over the world.

Thanks to firefly.org http://www.firefly.org/ for the above information. Please take a few minutes to visit their very informative website.

Catching tips

Most of us have fond memories of catching fireflies or lightning bugs on warm summer nights. Many people kept them in jars—sometimes a jar full of fireflies can produce enough light to read by. If you want to catch fireflies, here are a few tips that will help you along.

Where to look

Fireflies are easy to spot—just look for the flashing lights. They typically love long grasses, marshy areas and regions near the edges of ponds, lakes, streams and other bodies of water. They can thrive under low-hanging trees, in forests and fields, and even in your yard or vegetable garden.

Watch Your Light

Fireflies communicate using their flashing lights. If you want to catch one, you have to act like one. First, turn off your exterior house lights—these may confuse fireflies and make them less likely to respond to light signals from other fireflies. Then take a flashlight outside.

If you are having trouble getting near the fireflies in your yard, imitate one of them by shining your flashlight directly up and down, or by repeating the light patterns you see fireflies emitting. This may or may not work; many scientists who study fireflies have better luck with LED lights than with battery-powered flashlights. Never shine a light directly at a firefly; it’s likely to scare them away rather than attracting them.

In addition, you may have better luck catching fireflies if you place a blue plastic disc or piece of paper over your flashlight to turn the light blue. Scientists believe fireflies don’t interpret blue light the same way they see other colors, so the light won’t disorient their flash patterns.

Catch Carefully

When you get close enough, catch your fireflies using a net. Place the fireflies you catch into a clear jar with a lid that’s been pierced to let in air. You should also place a moistened paper towel inside to keep the air in the jar humid. This way, your fireflies will have air to breathe and won’t dry out.

It’s often more effective to work in pairs when catching fireflies, with one person to hold the jar and another to use the net. Be sure to use care when catching them; fireflies can be fragile.

Let Them Go

Once you have a jar of fireflies, don’t keep them for longer than a day or two. Let them go, preferably at night because that’s when they’re most active and able to avoid predators. If you keep them for longer, the fireflies are likely to die.

Some people remember crushing fireflies in their fingers to make their hands glow and keeping them in unventilated jars for several days. While this might not have caused serious damage to firefly populations in times when they were more plentiful, today’s firefly numbers are dwindling—so each one matters. Catch fireflies carefully, treat them gently and release them into the wild again when you’re done, and you’ll be able to enjoy these fascinating creatures without causing any harm.

Hundreds of lightning bugs light up the woods with their glowing bodies. Photo by Judd Patterson/www.juddpatterson.com

Special thanks to http://www.firefly.org/ for the above information and photos. Please take a few minutes to visit their very informative website dedicated to this amazing insect. If you do, you will be in awe forever.

This site may be linked to other sites. This action does not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Run For The Trails, Inc. or the Lightning Bug Run of any of the opinions of the linked site or organization or individual. Run For The Trails, Inc. and The Lightning Bug Run bear no responsibility for the accuracy, legality or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

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