Despite their name, fireflies are neither on fire or flies. So if they’re not flies and not on fire, what, exactly, are fireflies? They are beetles, says Firefly Watch, that light up using a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. Some fireflies, also called lightning bugs, light up in a specific blinking pattern, like a secret code that they use to “talk” with other fireflies to find mates.
Firefly Watch Citizen Science Project hopes to learn more with its reporting program, where individuals around the world count the insects. You can be a part of this scientific experience. Just spend 10 minutes once a week during firefly season, February through August, counting fireflies in one location, such as your backyard or in a nearby field.
The goal of the project is to find out if firefly populations are growing or shrinking, and what could lead to changes in their populations. Also, the project will help determine the geographic distribution of fireflies, and what environmental factors impact their abundance. All firefly sightings are valuable. Fireflies can be spotted in the early evening as the sun goes down. Fireflies prefer wooded areas over grassy yards, and their larvae can spend up to two years in leaf litter. Adults may live only a couple of weeks, and most do not eat during this time. They mate, lay eggs and die.
Report your findings to Firefly Watch at massaudubon.org/get-involved/citizen-science/firefly-watch, a project of Mass (Massachusetts) Audubon, which has teamed up with researchers from Tufts University to track the fate of these illuminating insects.