How to Attract Fireflies

Fireflies, lightning bugs, or lightning beetles. Whatever you call them, they are a hallmark of summer in many places. Do you know how to attract fireflies so you can catch them or observe them up close? Read on to find out how. Affiliate links are included in this post.

How to Attract Fireflies - learn tips for calling them in plus fun facts.

Living Lights: Fireflies in Your Backyard


We read the book Living Lights: Fireflies in Your Backyard to learn more about fireflies. Here are some quick facts we learned:

  • There are 2000 difference species of fireflies. (over 150 in North America)
  • Fireflies are found on every continent except Antarctica. (They don’t do well in the cold and are not found near the arctic either.) They like humid, moist areas.
  • Fireflies are beetles. Flies have only one set of wings whereas beetles have two sets – one hard, one soft. (Check out our build a beetle game to learn more about the parts of a beetle and practice some math.)
  • Larval fireflies eat snails, insects, and earthworms. Some adult fireflies eat nectar or pollen, but other adult fireflies don’t eat at all.
  • Adult fireflies only live between 5-30 days.
  • In many species, the eggs and larvae of the fireflies glow, too.

There are lots more facts in the book! Pair this non-fiction book with these fiction books about fireflies for even more reading fun.

The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle
It’s a Firefly Night by Dianne Ochiltree

How to Attract Fireflies

How to Attract Fireflies - learn tips for calling them in plus fun facts.
Aiden waiting to catch fireflies in his jar.

Female fireflies sit on the ground or in the grass. Males fly around in the air at night. When a female firefly sees a male she likes, she flashes. The male flashes in return. They continue flashing back and forth to each other in a specific pattern. Each firefly species has their own pattern of flashes. To attract fireflies, you will need to mimic the female firefly’s flash.

Get a small key chain flash light (the kind with a single LED light works well). Turn off the lights outside. Observe the flashing lights of the fireflies. You’ll soon see a pattern emerge. Fireflies can’t see blue light, so use a different color light to attract them. Blue light will work well to observe them though.

According to the Xplor magazine from the Missouri Department of Conservation, fireflies in our area flash like this: Males flash for half a second. 3 seconds later, females flash for half a second. Male flashes. 3 seconds later, female flashes… We tried this pattern and the fireflies came right up to us. We easily caught a few to observe more closely. Then, we let them go. (I need to get better at night photography.)

How to Attract Fireflies - learn tips for calling them in plus fun facts.

Try this: Watch for a male firefly. After he finishes his flash count for 3 seconds (1 Mississippi…), then flash your LED light. He’ll flash back. Keep up the pattern and he should head your way.

*Fun fact: Did you know that some species of fireflies imitate other species? They attract in different fireflies, so they can eat them!

Are fireflies disappearing? Are there less now than when we were kids? Scientists are trying to figure that out. The Museum of Boston started a Firefly Watch program – a citizen science program that you can participate in. To give you an idea of different flash patterns, you can check out their flash chart. If the pattern above doesn’t work, observe your female fireflies and try to mimic them.

3 Ways to Help Protect Fireflies

  • Preserve their habitat. Leave some areas of your lawn unmowed. That’s where they spend their day.
  • Turn off lights at night. Bright lights can make it difficult for the fireflies to communicate.
  • Eliminate your use of pesticides. Pesticides can harm fireflies. (Don’t handle fireflies while wearing yucky bug spray either. Try plant based sprays.)

Happy firefly hunting!

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This post was originally published on June 27, 2014.

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