In Praise of Fireflies

Welcome back to our special‘Get Outside!’ A celebration of the warmer weather – and all the ways we enjoy it – at this wonderful place we call home.

And right now – one of the most wonderful, joyful, and even – magical parts of the American home, in the warmer months of the year…something that makes every child want to run outside, and something that wakens the child in all of us – no matter what age we are.

And I’m talking about – fireflies.


Is that what you call them? Or do you call them lightning bugs?

Either way, what is more amazing for children…that to run around outside on a warm night, as the fireflies start lighting up? It’s one of the most amazing parts of the warm weather nights…and so often, the discoveries, the joys and the magic – happen at home. Some of our fondest memories as a child, may well be catching fireflies in a jar – and watching it light up again and again. By the way, apparently that’s OK to do…as long as you punch some holes in the lid, then let ‘em go before too long.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, there are more than 2000 species of fireflies. The light? That’s what scientists call bioluminescence. It’s caused when oxygen combines with the unique chemicals within the fireflies ‘light’ organ…and its biological purpose, is to attract mates, to communicate danger and other reasons as well.

And, National Geographic says fireflies are found everywhere in the United States – except for one little area at the very top of Alaska, near Hudson Bay. Probably just too cold up there.

But – there’s a problem. Fireflies, are disappearing. Studies report that development, may be the reason. Because, as the Smithsonian explains it, if the habitat where a huge firefly colony lives – gets paved over into a parking lot? The fireflies don’t move on…they don’t have that instinct. Instead, that colony just dies off.

Another theory – light pollution. As we said, fireflies use their flashing lights to communicate. But scientists believe that bright lights, like car headlights, throw off that communication.

So, fireflies are facing challenges, as they try to adapt to the modern world.

But – at your own home? There are ways you can help. You can create a firefly habitat in your own yard. I read about that at firefly.org. They suggest for starters, that you turn off outside lights at night.

Also, create a little wilderness at your place. Leave organic materials, like tree bark and branches, someplace on your property, so the firefly larvae will have shelter.

They also suggest you stop the use of pesticides…and they recommend that if you fertilize, use natural fertilizers…like mulching your lawn instead of using chemical fertilizers.

And also? They suggest you make it a neighborhood project. Get others involved…so the firefly habitat you create…will be bigger, and help even more.

And, if you create that firefly habitat the right way? You can even have your yard certified by the National Wildlife foundation. You can find more information on all of that – at firefly.org.

You know, when I started writing this essay, I didn’t even know fireflies were in trouble. I only learned about it when I was doing my research. So I thought I’d pass it on to you. We all love our homes, and we all want them to provide wonderful memories over the years. And maybe, just maybe, we can play a small part, in making the magic of fireflies continue on, for our children, our grandchildren, and the child in each one – of us.

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