Fun with Fireflies

by: EJ on 04/11/2019

If you are one of the lucky people who live in parts of the world where fireflies also live, you will know there is nothing so magical as a field filled with these tiny creatures, flashing their ephemeral lights at dusk on warm summer’s evening. This activity is an excerpt from The Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning by Drew Monkman and Jaocb Rodenburg. Receive a 40% discount on this and all other New Society books until April 15th. 


Photo credit: Raph Su

Fun with Fireflies

You’ll learn: How to attract fireflies and make a natural night light.

You’ll need: Flashlight, glass jar, ice cream tub with lid.

Background: The firefly is a beetle with a special organ in its abdomen capable of mixing oxygen, a  pigment called luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. When the insect flies upward, these chemicals mingle and create a flash. As the insect descends, the flash turns off. When a female of the same species sees the flash, she responds with her own light signal. Eventually the male and female fireflies find each other and mate.


What to do: On a summer evening, just as dusk fades into night, visit a meadow where there are fireflies. If you have a flashlight or a wristwatch that glows in the dark, try reproducing the pattern of flashes. Different species of fireflies flash at different rates. Like Morse code, each pulse of light communicates a special message to the opposite sex. Can you attract a firefly by imitating the sequence?

Make a “night light” for your bedroom.


Photo credit: Carol Van Hook

What to do: Catch several fireflies in a plastic ice cream tub and transfer them to a glass jar. Add a few leaves and a drop or two of water. Lie in bed and fall asleep to their lovely star-like flashes. Let them go in the morning.

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