People often ask me this excellent question. Yet it doesn’t have a quick or easy answer. One reason is that different species live in different habitats. For instance, the salt marsh firefly Micronaspis floridana is restricted to intertidal regions along the Florida coast. Another reason is that certain things matter to adult fireflies, whereas different things matter to the juveniles.
Some species have specialized habitat requirements (photo by Drew Fulton)
For adult fireflies, what’s most important is finding a dark place for their courtship displays. Artificial lights – streetlamps, outdoor security lights, even car headlights – can disrupt firefly courtship conversations. Such bright backgrounds make it difficult for fireflies to see each other’s courtship signals. Another desirable habitat feature for adult females is easy access to suitable egg-laying sites, like moss, moist soil, or decaying wood.
From Kumiko Kishimoto, in Okinawa –
When I was growing up in the 1950s, we lived at the west end of a village called Yabu-son, outside Nago. We kept our house wide open, even at night, especially during the hot summer. In the evenings after supper, my grandmother would sit with me and my siblings at the edge of wooden hallway, which ran alongside the south-east side of our house. As we sat enjoying cool breeze, we sang songs, talked about little things happened during the day, and memorized the multiplication table with Grandmother.
This northern part of Okinawa had no electricity until the mid-1950s, so it really became pitch dark after sunset. In those days, my grandmother’s house was lit only by a single kerosene lamp which Mom used in the kitchen as she cleaned up after supper.
- Baby Kumiko (left), sits on her grandfather Morigen Kishimoto’s lap. Ushi, her grandmother, holds her brother Moriyuki (Okinawa, early 1950s)
As we sat with Grandmother, suddenly we’d spot the first firefly. They seemed to magically appear and light up the darkness around the house. We’d catch as many as we could, and put them into Mason jars left over from the American soldiers. We were mesmerized by the glowing lights – they seemed like a symphony! Though it’s hard to explain, even now I remember how magical those lights were.
Here are a few simple ways to attract your local fireflies (from Silent Sparks Chapter 8):
Create an inviting habitat
- Let the grass in part of your lawn grow longer by mowing it less frequently. This will help the soil hold more moisture.
- Leave some leaf litter and woody debris in parts of your yard – this makes good habitat for larval fireflies.
- Fireflies need moist places to lay their eggs, so preserve any wetlands, streams, or ponds in your neighborhood.
Bring back the night
- When installing or re-thinking your outdoor lighting, use only what you need to get the job done.
- Use Dark-Sky compliant, shielded lighting fixtures; these direct light downward, where it’s most useful for safety and security. Use bulbs as low-wattage as possible to provide just the light you need.
- Turn off outdoor lights when they’re not needed, or put them on timers or motion sensors.