The Fireflies of Summer

Summer is pretty easy to define when you’re a kid.  The second that final school bell rings, summer is on.

As a naturalist I like to keep track of the seasons with phenology, or the timing of natural phenomenon.  Some naturalists keep meticulous details of the timing of nature. These records can help document the changes over the years.  While I’ve never been one to jot these notes down, I sure do get excited when I spot my first firefly of the summer season.

Growing up out west, I didn’t discover the magic of fireflies until I was nearly 30.   Now I’m blessed with a backyard full of these flashing beacons.

There are around 2,000 different species of firefly.   The blinking is a chemical reaction in the abdomen of the bugs, and the frequency of flashing can help identify different species.  Many use their flashing to attract mates.  A couple of species are predatory, mimicking the flashes to instead draw an easy meal.

None of this biology matters when you’re running around the backyard trying to catch fireflies.  What technique works best for you?  Trying to grab one out of the air?  Stalking one that is on the ground flashing?  Perhaps sitting and waiting for a firefly to come to you? Go ahead and catch a couple of fireflies.  Keep them in a jar and observe them closely for a short while, but be sure to release them back to where you caught them from.

Memorial Day Weekend is another harbinger of summer. For me this glorious summer kicked off with Memorial Day firefly fireworks flashing in the sky.

Stacy is a gardener, birder, and naturalist, and the author of nearly 10 books, including The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book, The Secret Lives of Animals, Project Garden, and 101 Plants You Can't Kill.

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