Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.
Do you remember fireflies? When is the last time you watched fireflies on a warm, humid summer night? Last summer, I was out visiting my family in the Chicago suburbs. I drove west, out to a more rural area, to visit one of my brothers and see his brand new house. On the way to this house in a brand new development, I was amazed to see an endless amount of fireflies in the prairies! Living in California, I hadn’t seen fireflies (also called lightening bugs) in years! I had my brother stop the car so that I could get out and enjoy them. Twirling around and around, drinking in the golden lights in the fields all around me. This brought back wonderful childhood memories that I would not have recollected if not for that moment. I was so glad that somewhere “back home” there were still places fireflies thrive, somewhere rural and beyond developments with their attendant lawns and streetlights. I wonder how much new “twilight” this new development was going to cast out, though, and if the fireflies will be there next time I visited…
Fireflies are a sign of summer. Underneath star-filled summer night skies, the fireflies are stars of their own, scattered across tall grassy fields, lighting up marshes, dancing at the edge of forests. How many of us have childhood memories of chasing fireflies and capturing them in jars? Sadly, our kids may not grow up with those same memories, because the fireflies are disappearing from marshes, fields & forests all over the world. Our fields & marshes are being paved over, and their habitat is disappearing to development.
Both male and female fireflies use their own flashing lights to communicate. They use this language to attract mates, defend their territory, and warn of predators. In the right habitat, groups of many thousands of fireflies might synchronize their display. Artificial lights, however, interrupt the flash patterns of the firefly. Their flashes get noticeably out of sync with just the passing of a car’s headlights. Lights from homes, outdoor lighting and streetlights make it difficult for fireflies to signal each other during mating, meaning fewer larvae are born the next season.
Fireflies once had uninterrupted fields, forests, or marshes in which to live and mate. Nowadays sightings are more of a rare surprise. These winged creatures bring magic & mystery to summer nights. What a loss to our kids to lose them altogether!
Fireflies (Photuris, Photinus & Pyractomena) are native to the East, with Photinus’ range extending to the Midwest of the United States. They prefer wet areas, ponds, marshes and swamps, not the dry Southwest. If you want to create a habitat in your Eastern or Midwestern garden, you could try these tips: Turn off the lights in your home & outdoors; let logs and litter accumulate so that larvae have a place to breed; create water features like ponds and streams that will provide smaller insects to eat; avoid the use of pesticides; use natural fertilizers; do not over mow your lawn where fireflies may be during the day; plant native trees; and do not introduce earthworms to your garden… Earthworms are not native to the United States!
As humans expand into more rural areas, we create a constant state of “twilight” in the habitats all around us. This affects mating habits, feeding patterns, and navigational skills of many mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Researchers are just beginning to understand the total effect of artificial light at nighttime on ecosystems.
When we think about lighting, we hardly ever think about how it affects wildlife. And while you may not have to worry about fireflies in your own garden, your corner of the planet, there are still plenty of other wildlife that do have contact with your garden at nighttime, from the moths & frogs, to bats & birds.
If YOU have outdoor lights that are on all night long, it is easy to help out the fireflies, birds and wildlife that live in your area just by turning out your lights! If you need security lights, they can be put on motion detectors, or shielded to prevent glare which blinds any usefulness. Walkways can be lit with lower wattage bulbs.
For more help with outdoor lighting, visit darksky.org, where they have compiled valuable resources that you can apply to your own yard & garden.
April 20-26, 2014 is International Dark Sky Week. What better time to take a look at your outdoor garden and see what you can do to help wildlife at nighttime?
To find Dark Sky events or clubs near you, use the widget on the right hand side of this page: http://www.darksky.org/nightskyconservation
Do you have a firefly story to tell? We’d love to hear it~
© 2014, Kathy Vilim. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.