Light Up Your Landscape

Give your garden a glow of tiny twilights twinkling. These firefly-friendly garden practices will spark many magical summer evenings.

Did you see it — that fast flicker? Fireflies have been lighting up the landscape at night lately. It’s always a treat to see them and many of us caught fireflies in fields or at the edge of the woods as a child.

Sadly, “lightning bug” populations appear to be declining in many areas. Scientists have recently begun to study the issue and suggest it may be due to habitat loss and light pollution.

Firefly eggs are usually laid in damp soil and the larvae hatch out in three to four weeks. Often called “glowworms,” the larvae prey on snails, slugs, insects and worms for one to two years before pupating. Their glow serves as a warning to predators, signaling their bad taste.

Most fireflies eat pollen and nectar from flowers as adults, but some species are predatory and others don’t feed at all. Adult fireflies only live three to four weeks, just long enough to find mates and lay eggs.

Keep an eye out for fireflies trying to attract mates at dusk and watch for their unique flash patterns. Males usually fly while females wait in grasses or trees and then signal back to them. Some sneaky species mimic the flash pattern of other firefly species to lure in males and then devour them.

There are over 2,000 species of fireflies, but not all glow as adults. Fireflies produce their glow in light organs on their lower abdomens. It happens in a chemical reaction where oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the chemical luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. And it produces almost no heat!

Make your garden firefly friendly with these tips.

  • Create a small wildflower meadow or keep a little corner of your yard planted with tall grasses and shrubs. Check out this firefly plant list for ideas.
  • Plant trees and leave leaf litter undisturbed. Some firefly species live in rotting logs and among fallen leaves as larvae.
  • Cut back on how often and how short you mow your lawn when you see fireflies out. Adults often hang out on the ground during the day.
  • Turn off outdoor lights and close the curtains at dusk. Light pollution can interfere with their mating behavior.
  • Avoid using pesticides.
  • Always practice catch and release. Fireflies will dry out and die when kept in jars.
  • Help track firefly sightings by participating in the firefly watch citizen science project.

You can keep these tiny twilights twinkling by simply setting aside some space in your yard for them to visit and call home.

Picture of Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet
Sasha Kodet is a conservation planner whose large garden attracts a myriad of wildlife and curious neighbors with minimal water. At SAWS, Kodet develops outdoor programs to help people create their own beautiful, water-saving landscapes. She draws on her two decades of experience as a naturalist, botanical garden educator and event planner. Kodet enjoys (really) long walks in the woods and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.
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