Flashes in the night

Last week as true darkness started I wandered my backyard in awe and wonderment. All around me were fireflies flashing. They floated by my head the close flash incredibly bright. Those near the ground would momentarily create a circle of greenish light. They were everywhere. Some near the ground, some up high in the trees, most floating a few feet above the ground in the still air. At least a hundred blinking lights. Truly a magical night. I knew then I’m at peak firefly.

Every night for the past ten days I’ve been out watching the little bugs. The timing has been great this year with the moon now days past full, a waning crescent. Observing fireflies isn’t something I just started as I’ve been seriously doing it for years. I’ve even tried photography several times. But my local light pollution and perhaps lack of skill, or maybe poor technique, haven’t yielded good results. Its really difficult to capture that special feeling be around hundreds of fireflies

I have learned a great number of things about fireflies over the years. That each species flashes in a unique way. That they are out to mate and will die after their light show is done. That the males are flying around and the females sit waiting to chose the right one.

Perhaps most interesting to me is that a peak period of activity happens. That is, for a short time, perhaps a week or two, the greatest number of fireflies are active. For my location its roughly this time of year ever year. And then they will get less and less as the days pass. Certainly there will be some fireflies flashing in my backyard a few months from now. Just as their were a few flashing two months earlier. But nothing like the numbers I have now. Peak firefly, week of the lightning bug, seems like their should be a name for it.

Fireflies come out well before the sun sets and get ready for their nightly show. If one looks around you’ll see them waiting on tall grass or perched on bush like this guy from my yard last July:

Firefly getting ready for the nights show

I read that firefly numbers are going down which does not surprise me at all. Between light pollution and lawn maintenance chemicals I’d bet their numbers in suburbia, where I grew up many years ago, are greatly reduced. None of that is present where I am now. I also border a wet wooded area: perfect habitat for fireflies. Even with good living conditions their numbers do vary from year to year. In particular around the 2011 drought period here the firefly activity was significantly less.

And this is something I’ve wondered for years: how do I get an accurate count of the fireflies active in a given area at that time? Maybe accurate isn’t the right word. Maybe quantifiable is a better one. Fireflies per cubic meter / per second? I have observed variations from year to year and would like to be able to compare numbers rather than a gut feeling I have that there are more or less fireflies.

Even if I never figure out how to properly count their quantity or get a stunning picture that truly reflects what I am seeing, I consider myself lucky I get a lovely show every year.

 

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