7 Things You Should Do to Protect Fireflies by

Issue 81 · Weekend Getaway · July 17, 2013

7 Things You Should Do to Protect Fireflies

Issue 81 · Weekend Getaway · July 17, 2013

Compared to photographing them, catching fireflies is about the easiest thing to do. And in the summertime, spending at least one evening running around a field, mason jar in hand, should a be a priority if not a requirement.

In the northeastern part of the United States, firefly season is at its peak in the weeks after July 4. But if you've noticed fewer tiny twinkling bugs in your backyard this summer, that might be because there's evidence to show that firefly populations are on the decline. But do not despair. Firefly.org has outlined a few ways that you can help protect fireflies. We're republishing some of them here in hopes that our fellow gardeners can help spread the word.

Photographs by Erin Boyle.

How to Catch (and Protect) Fireflies | Gardenista

Seven things you can do to protect fireflies:

1. Turn off outdoor lights: Fireflies use bioluminescence to communicate and attract mates. There's evidence that light pollution from humans interferes,  making it harder for fireflies to mate and breed.

2. Let logs and litter accumulate: Rotting logs and litter on the forest floor can provide crucial habitats for firefly larvae. 

3. Get a fountain: Most species of fireflies thrive in marshy areas near standing water. If you don't live by a natural water source, consider adding a small pond or fountain—or even a birdbath—to your garden.

4. Don't use pesticides and fertilizers:  It shouldn't be surprising that pesticides that get sprayed to eradicate one type of insect can have detrimental effects across species. Although there's no direct link between fertilizer use and firefly decline, it's common sense that you will create a richer natural environment if you avoid synthetic fertilizers and chemicals. Better for you, better for the bugs.

5. Don't over-mow your lawn: Fireflies tend to stay close to the ground, and mowing your lawn too often can destroy some of their favorite places to roam.

6. Plant trees: Trees—especially pines—provide a protective umbrella under which fireflies live and can mate. The needles that fall to the ground underneath pine trees create an additional habitat.

7. Talk to your neighbors: This is probably the best step you can take. Imagine how many more fireflies you'd see if the whole neighborhood just agreed to turn off the lights?

How to Catch (and Protect) Fireflies | Gardenista  

Above: On a recent weekend at my parents' house in Connecticut, we enjoyed a nightly firefly show. An abundance of habitats like the woodpiles, wildflower meadows, and marshes around my parents' house are likely reasons that we saw so many.  (Kendra had the right idea in Can We Please Be Less Fanatically Tidy?).

How to Catch (and Protect) Fireflies | Gardenista

Above: Reducing outdoor light pollution is good for star gazing, fireflies, and just about every other living thing (including humans). My mom hides the back porch light under a Red Trumpet Honeysuckle Vine ($19.95 from Gardener Direct) to reduce its impact.

How to Catch (and Protect) Fireflies | Gardenista

Above: Can you spot the fireflies in my mom's garden? I promise you, there were more of them.

How to Catch (and Protect) Fireflies | Gardenista

Above: I armed myself with a wide-mouthed mason jar and a square of cheesecloth to do a bit of old-fashioned firefly catching.

How to Catch (and Protect) Fireflies | Gardenista

Above: The cheesecloth did double-duty as as a breathable barrier and a translucent lid on my temporary nightlight. Don't worry, I was a gentle captor and let this guy go before too long.

For more of my countrified exploits, see Meadow Muddle: My Laissez Faire Approach to Arranging Wildflowers and 12 Tips for Growing Cutting Flowers from Barberry Hill Farm.

Have an opinion? Care to comment? We'd love to hear what you have to say.