Fireflies Count

Fireflies Count

Numbers dwindling, so assessment needed

Making Ripples

One of the marvels of the universe is how vast it is, both in the skies and on the ground. A hallmark of the summer season is an evening spent outdoors in the company of a cold beverage, a sunset and the stars above — and below. Fireflies glow like fairies among the flowers and twinkle in the treetops as though part of a thousand living Christmas lights. In a Morse code saga that has stretched on for centuries of our planet’s existence, male and female fireflies flash patterns of various-colored light to find their mates. Wouldn’t it be terrible to lose forever the mysterious bioluminescent romance they bring into our lives?

According to most major news outlets from the past year, firefly populations all over the world are on the decline due to habitat loss, light pollution and pesticides. There isn’t enough data on the more than 170 species of fireflies in North America to determine more information that would help populations recover.

The website recommends numerous ways to help fireflies: close window blinds at night, reduce yard lights, leave a few rotting logs and fallen leaves on the ground, don’t over-mow lawns, avoid pesticides, use natural fertilizers, add a water feature to the garden, plant natives (grasses, forbs, vines and trees) and don’t introduce earthworms. Perhaps best of all, counting fireflies can both help these little lanterns survive and enhance an enjoyable evening.

We can help scientists track populations and keep them alive by counting fireflies near our homes and reporting what we observe to Firefly Watch, a program run by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. You might even make a social distancing event out of it! Compare results with family and friends virtually or do the counts outdoors together in person while keeping the appropriate distance apart.

Anyone in North America can enjoy the fireflies in their backyard or any safe location nearby. All it takes is 10 minutes once a week or whenever you can during summer. In Northwest Arkansas, fireflies typically emerge in May. Not every species is active at the same time. Some appear early in summer, others later. Some species are active just after dark for 20 minutes, but others come out later at night and flash until past midnight — even at 4 a.m. in some cases! — so you can watch when it’s convenient for you. But don’t count during daytime, and don’t count larvae in the grass (glowworms).

Watchers make note of their observation time, along with conditions like cloud cover, wind and temperature. You’ll be trained to identify awesome varieties of these “lightning bugs,” and to recognize different colors of light and patterns or shapes made by different species.

What if you don’t see any fireflies? Researchers need to know that, too; as you may have guessed, that’s especially important. If you don’t see a single firefly near your home for many weeks, you can pick a second site with fireflies if you want, but report no activity at your home site first. (Just look around for a few seconds, note conditions, then go to your second site.)

According to the Firefly Watch data map, there are only two people in all of Northwest Arkansas reporting firefly numbers this year. We can do better than that! It’s free and takes mere minutes to sign up your email and add your firefly counting location (a home address is not required). Sign up for Firefly Watch at or email

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at

Categories: Making Ripples