Running barefoot around the backyard, catching and letting them go, seeing them light up the night sky—even if you didn't participate in chasing down fireflies growing up, fireflies (also known as lightning bugs in the Midwest and South) still capture the essence of summertime nostalgia. Unfortunately, scientists and researchers have noticed in recent years that the beloved beetle is disappearing across the country and throughout the world. If the decline continues, they could become extinct. But here's the good news: You have the ability to help.
Courtesy of Firefly Conservation & Research
How to Create a Firefly-Friendly Landscape
Firefly Conservation & Research, a nonprofit organization, launched a program in May 2022 that allows you to turn your yard into a certified habitat (made official with a sign made of recycled aluminum, pictured above). Founder Ben Pfeiffer, a recognized firefly researcher and certified naturalist, created the initiative in 2009 to support research and help firefly populations grow for generations to come.
"Fireflies are on the decline in many parts of the world," Pfeiffer said in a statement. "While the specific causes of decline vary by location, many are likely to be driven by habitat degradation and loss, light pollution, pesticide use, and climate change. This program helps people of all ages share our mission to protect, restore, and enhance firefly habitats."
To get your official habitat certification, you have to fulfill the following requirements on your property:
Provide undisturbed cover for adult fireflies and glowing larvae
Encourage plant diversity to preserve soil moisture
Reduce light pollution
Restrict pesticide usage
The certification program costs $45 and includes the sign and a downloadable guide with a checklist to turn your yard into a firefly-friendly oasis. You'll get information on the firefly life cycle, habitat degradation and its impact on fireflies, invasive species, and more—making the creation of your firefly habitat a hands-on, educational experience the whole family can take part in. You can also contact your favorite local park or nature reserve to take the steps toward getting certified.
To build a habitat that attracts fireflies, firefly.org suggests placing bags of wet leaf compost in a shady spot. Snails, slugs, and other insects (food for fireflies) will start to appear. You can also increase the health of your garden soil by adding organic matter and nutrients while avoiding pesticides. Pfeiffer also suggests changing your lightbulbs to warmer colors, like amber, yellow, or red, as they "interfere less with the ability of fireflies to see each other's flashes," and avoid mowing along any seasonal wet areas.
The Disappearance of Fireflies
There are many causes behind the decline in firefly population, but in most regions, the simple solutions are the same. Fireflies prefer warm, humid climates near water. According to fireflies.org, the open fields and marshes they thrive in are being paved over and built on around the world. Human traffic has also been cited by researchers as a source of disruption.
Light pollution also hurts fireflies—and light pollution affects all living beings, not just wildlife. A fairly new concept, light pollution is the excessive or inappropriate use of outdoor artificial light. Car headlights on busy highways, street lamps, and office lights are just a few everyday examples of light interrupting the natural circadian rhythms all living beings rely on. You can reduce your own emissions by using outdoor lighting only when needed and closing your blinds when the sun goes down.
You can also get a Wildlife Habitat Certification for your yard or garden through the National Wildlife Federation, which emphasizes replenishing resources for wildlife like bees, birds, birds, and amphibians. That criteria involves providing food (nuts, seeds, berries, etc.), a water source, a habitat for nesting, and nursery space. With some small, simple shifts, you can help provide a more suitable habitat for all kinds of creatures.