Fun with Fireflies

fireflies.jpgToday, Hillary of Mass Audubon shares firefly scouting tips and resources:

"As the sun set, a little firefly was born. It stretched its wings and flew off into the darkening sky. It was a lonely firefly, and flashed its light searching for other fireflies." I have to admit something. Reading Eric Carle's The Very Lonely Firefly for the last few years has been the extent of my family's firefly interactions. But this year, things are going to be different. We're going to do what families have done for centuries: enjoy these little, fascinating bugs as they light up the summer night sky. At least, that's our hope.
Sadly, it's getting harder and harder to see fireflies, most likely due to development, manicured yards, and light pollution. Since there's still much to learn about the distribution and activity of fireflies in the wild, the Museum of Science, in tandem with Tufts University and Fitchburg State College, created the Firefly Watch Citizen Science Project. The project lets you have fun observing fireflies and, at the same time, contribute to an important scientific study. (Pretty cool for your budding environmentalists!)

To prepare for our own firefly scouting, I checked in with one of the Drumlin Farm educators for a few tips and pointers. Here's what I learned:

  • Fireflies aren't actually flies, but beetles.
  • There are about 20 to 30 species in New England, most of which flash the yellow-green light, though some flash amber or even just green.
  • The flashing is a way to attract a mate. Males flash from trees or shrubs, females respond by flashing from the grass.
  • Your best shot at seeing them is in meadows near shrubby, wooded areas.
  • You can encourage them to your yard by leaving some areas of grass to grow longer, turn off outside lights, and leave leaf litter under trees.
  • To see fireflies without disturbing their mating patterns, put a blue film over your flashlight. Fireflies can't see blue.
  • Wear bug spray, but don't handle fireflies if bug spray is on your hands as it could do harm.

Since we live in the suburbs, we're going to visit one of our wildlife sanctuaries at dusk. Better yet, we plan on attending one of Mass Audubon's upcoming firefly programs.

Do you have any firefly experiences to share, whether as a child or with your child? Feel free to do so in the comments below!

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