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 be a priority if not a requirement.
In the northeastern United States, firefly season is at its peak in the weeks after July 4. But if you noticed fewer tiny twinkling bugs in your backyard this summer, that might be because firefly populations are apparently declining. But do not despair. Firefly.org has outlined a few ways you can help protect fireflies. We’re republishing some of them here in hopes that our fellow gardeners can help spread the word.
Photography by Erin Boyle.
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 with that, 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 come as a surprise that spraying pesticides to eradicate one type of insect can have detrimental effects across species. And though 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 too often can destroy some of their favorite places to roam.
6. Plant trees: Trees–especially pines–provide a protective umbrella under which fireflies can live and mate. The needles that fall to the ground beneath 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 agreed to just turn off the lights?
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 their place are likely why we saw so many. (Kendra had the right idea in Can We Please Be Less Fanatically Tidy?)
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.
Above: Can you spot the fireflies in my mom’s garden? I promise you, there were many more of them.
Above: I armed myself with a wide-mouthed jar and a square of cheesecloth to do some old-fashioned firefly-catching.
Above: The cheesecloth did double-duty as a breathable barrier and a translucent lid on my temporary nightlight. Don’t worry, I was a gentle captor, and I let this guy go before too long.
Updated from a post originally published July 17, 2013.
For more of Erin’s countrified exploits, see Meadow Muddle: My Laissez Faire Approach to Arranging Wildflowers and 12 Tips for Growing Cutting Flowers from Barberry Hill Farm.