I saw my first lightning bug of the season last night, right after my co-workers and I had been talking about them. We could remember chasing and catching lightning bugs as a kids. They made us run and jump and laugh. Just seeing them kind of makes me feel like a kid again. They are the coolest bugs ever!
As we talked, we felt like there are fewer lightning bugs around then when we were kids, and this might be true. There are several reasons for this, but there are things you can do to attract them to your homes, and there are places you can still find lots of them.
The reason lightning bugs are the coolest bug ever is the very thing that gives them their name; they light up. Even their scientific name, Photinus, is about light. Lightning bugs or fireflies are not really bugs or flies, but are beetles. There are over 1500 types worldwide and in the US they are typically only found east of the Rockies. Fireflies bioluminesce, or create light. All adult males, some adult females and some larvae have this ability. The larvae give us the term glowworm. They light up to attract mates or prey (or children) or both. Adult bugs live only a couple of weeks. Many females cannot fly, so the males have to come to them. The larvae live in the soil and decaying organic matter and eat other insects and worms. They spend most of their lives as larvae and pupae, and the entire lifecycle takes about two years. They are generally found near water, and prefer warm humid conditions.
Their lifestyle has made them vulnerable. Here in Texas, it is thought that the recent years of drought (they spend most of their lives in the soil, and they like it moist) and the fire ant population (those nasty predators!) has helped lead to the decrease in fireflies. The other major factors contributing to the decline in lightning bugs is development and increased outdoor lighting. Development has led to habitat loss because humans tend to clean up the decaying plant matter where larvae live, and we tend to cut down trees and pave open areas. Outdoor lighting can affect the mating and feeding behavior of lightning bugs.
Attracting lightning bugs back into the areas where we live is possible and may even enhance our outdoor spaces. Because lightning bugs like moist areas with cover, adding a pond or stream to your landscape can help to attract lightning bugs. Long grasses, shrubs and mulch around the pond will also help. Larval and female lightning bugs like long grass, and the mulch provides the decaying organic matter for eggs and glowworms. Female lightning bugs harbor in long grass, and planting longer ornamental grasses around ponds can increase lightning bug habitat. During the weeks that lightning bugs are active, turning off outdoor lighting will help these guys in their mating and eating.
But we all want to see them, and now is the time of year to do it. It means going out in the evening, often to a local park, and hanging out. Not a hard thing to do this time of year. Some suggested places to start looking are in parks near creeks and ponds. Memorial Park, Old Settlers Park, and along Brushy Creek trail are places in to look in Round Rock. In Austin there are so many places to go that have water and trees, but Emma Long Park, Zilker Park, and Mayfield Park all come to mind. In Pfluegerville, try visiting Creekside Park. Just recently, I was in Champion Park along the Brushy Creek trail in Round Rock and I saw lots of fireflies.
Happy lightning bug hunting!