Summer fireflies make comeback in Georgia

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Georgia's summer fireflies are as mysterious as they are misunderstood.

Georgia has many species of fireflies, and the most abundant varieties typically appear during the summer.   Nancy Hinkle/Special
Nancy Hinkle/Special
Georgia has many species of fireflies, and the most abundant varieties typically appear during the summer.

"They're a family all to themselves, and they are actually beetles -- not flies at all," said University of Georgia entomologist Nancy Hinkle.

This year, even with drought, they are appearing in large numbers, based on anecdotal reports.

The nocturnal, blinking bugs are seen at different times of the year in different areas -- and for good reason, Hinkle said.

Georgia has 56 separate firefly species, more than any other state in the nation.

"Part of the reason is the diversity of habitat," she said. "(The) southern part of the state is much like Florida, so we have those species. Then we have the Piedmont and part of the Appalachian Mountains, so we get all those species, too."

In the Augusta area, fireflies are summer species, and are most abundant in dark areas with lots of moisture and minimal use of insecticides and chemicals.

Fireflies glow by producing a substance known as luciferin, which creates their soft bioluminescence.

Although both males and females can light up, the females are wingless and flightless, so all they can do is blink to lure in the flying males.

"Each species has its own flash pattern -- sort of a Morse code for insects -- that helps them avoid being attracted to the wrong species," Hinkle said.

There are also certain femme fatale species that can deliberately give out the wrong flash pattern to lure in males of other species, which are killed and eaten.

As larvae, fireflies live beneath moist, decaying leaves, where they feed on garden pests.

"They are very much carnivorous," Hinkle said. "Their larvae look like little tiny alligators."

Fireflies are rare in other regions of the county, she said, and not found at all on the West Coast.

"We have unique and wonderful opportunities to catch fireflies as part of growing up in the Southeast," she said. "The fireflies should not be crushed; they should be handled gently, and they should be released within an hour of catching so that they don't dehydrate."

Firefly facts
  • Fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, aren't flies at all; they are members of the beetle family.
  • There are more than 170 species of fireflies in North America, mostly in the east.
  • Fireflies are carnivorous and feed on other insects, including rival firefly species.
  • Light emitted by fireflies is a reaction from the oxidation of a substance called luciferin.
  • Other insects can produce light, but only fireflies flash their light in distinct signals.
  • In Georgia and South Carolina, prime firefly season is July through August.

Source: University of Georgia

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wondersnevercease 06/20/11 - 05:35 pm
Spent a summer in Boon NC

Spent a summer in Boon NC many years ago....sitting outside on our porch on the top of a Mountain and saw a most spectacular sight...millions of lighning bugs in the trees.....a lovely gift from our creator....thankyou.

TheGeorgian 06/20/11 - 05:37 pm
Love fireflies!

Love fireflies!

momster59 06/20/11 - 05:41 pm
OMG! This makes me soooo

OMG! This makes me soooo homesick for Michigan summers and the thousands upon thousands of fireflies that would light up the night. Sigh, so beautiful. Makes one understand how people used to believe in fairies and magic.

Sweet son
Sweet son 06/20/11 - 06:27 pm
The South had it right all

The South had it right all the time; lightning bugs!!! When we were kids we used to get a Mason jar, punch noles in the lid and see who could catch the most on warm summer nights. Those things from the past we will never forget!! Thanks, Rob!

allhans 06/21/11 - 01:43 am
Me too, Sweet son...running

Me too, Sweet son...running and catching lightning bugs. Back then little things meant a lot.

fcreasy 06/21/11 - 03:22 pm
We saw some about a week ago

We saw some about a week ago at our home in Edgefield Ct. Memories of my child hood

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