The Bugs of Summer: Fireflies

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Summer is in full swing, which means firefly season is officially upon us. While these brilliant bugs are lighting up the night all around New York, we want to share a few fast facts about the insects that are such an indelible sign of the season.

Firefly

Photinus pyralis, New York’s most common firefly, in flight.

© Terry Priest


  • Despite their name, fireflies aren’t flies at all, but a type of beetle.
  • There are more than 2,000 known species of fireflies worldwide, but those you’ll see in Theodore Roosevelt Park and around New York are likely Photinus pyralis, one of eastern North America’s most common firefly species.
  • Fireflies are bioluminescent, producing light by blending a cocktail of two chemicals—luceferin and luciferase—in a specialized organ known as their lantern.
  • For reasons that aren’t yet clear, fireflies that flash are extremely rare west of the Rocky Mountains in North America. Fireflies that do live in this region communicate using pheromones rather than flashes of light.
  • Fireflies flash to signal that they are ready and willing to mate. But in some species of fireflies, the females are known to take advantage of this display of eagerness, using their flashes to lure males and then attacking and eating them, a practice known to researchers as “hawking.”

You can learn more about fireflies and other bioluminescent creatures by consulting resources from the Museum’s Creatures of Light exhibition. And to see Museum researchers explore the phenomenon of bioluminescence underwater, check out the reports from last year’s Explore21 Expedition to the Solomon Islands.