Fireflies in the Garden


Elkmont synchronous Fireflies, Photo Credit to Judd Patterson

Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies, Photo Credit to Judd Patterson

Fireflies in the Garden, a Poem by Robert Frost

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!

Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies, Photo Judd Patterson

Elkmont Synchronous Fireflies, Photo by Judd Patterson

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, 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:

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 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.

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  1. says

    I love the fireflies and I am blessed to have them in my garden. I have more now than I did before I started planting of course. I am in a small village and there are streetlights but still my backyard tends to stay dark. I love sitting on our back porch and waiting for the fireflies to begin their show. In fact, I did a painting of it, “Watching the Bug Byway by Way of Back Porch.” I also like to sit way in the backyard without the protection of screens and wait for the bats to begin. Thank you for reminding me of these sweet Summer moments – it’s difficult to believe that they will ever happen again as this Winter seems to be endless.

    • says

      I am happy I conjured up some sweet summer memories~ You are so lucky to live in a small village where you can find darkness at nighttime. Fireflies are a rare treat that city dwellers miss out on. I’d love to see your firefly painting. Do you have a picture of it to share?
      kathy vilim recently posted..A Butterfly Kind of Day~

  2. says

    I so miss fireflies. I don’t keep the lights on any longer and I have seen ONE firefly since I live here, so I hope against hope that they will find my area an acceptable place to live. You have conjured up memories of my youth, capturing and releasing jars of these mesmerizing insects.

    Thanks Kathy!
    Loret T. Setters recently posted..Elliot Before and After

    • says

      Loret, I miss fireflies, too! I haven’t seen a single one here in California~ almost forgot about them until I saw them out by my brother’s in the Midwest~ Never want to forget the fireflies! Happy I was able to find pictures of them to share~
      kathy vilim recently posted..A Butterfly Kind of Day~

  3. Cindy says

    Hi Kathy.. For the last several years I have had fireflies in my garden.. I wait and hope every year. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Cindy Christensen says

    I am so fortunate to have gazillions of fireflies here in PA. At night the woods look as if there are explosions, there are so many. And they seem so big and bright. The grnadkids love to catch them and put them in the little firefly cage necklaces I got for them at Longwood Gaardens. (We let them go after a few minutes, of course)

    • says

      You ARE so lucky! Gazillians of fireflies dancing in the forest! I am happy for your grand kids that they get to see them. (I have never heard of those necklaces… glad you let them back out) Thanks for sharing!

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