On June 1st in Allegany State Park, the first fireflies of the season were spotted, bringing great excitement. Why? Lots of parks have fireflies, but not the Synchronous Firefly – once thought to exist in only a handful of places in the world, but now known in scattered locations from Georgia to southwestern New York. The (Photinus carolinus), flashes only from late June to mid-July and prefers dark mature forests, over 1200 feet with low vegetation and a water source. Fireflies or lightening bugs are actually a beetle that can produce its own luminescent light. Each species of firefly (there are over 170 species in the US) has its own unique flash pattern. Colors differ too. The male Synchronous Fireflies flash 8 to 10 times all in unison, then they stop for 10-15 seconds depending on the temperature. They wait for the female to flash back, then they repeat the display again and again into the wee hours of the morning. The best time to see this phenomenon is between 10 pm to 2 am.
Once they find each other, they mate, the females lay eggs, and then the adults die. The larvae hatch in a 3-4 weeks and devour worms and slugs. These small, blackish caterpillar-like predators inject their prey with a fluid which causes numbness, then they suck out the gooey innards. The larvae hibernate in small burrows in the soil and emerge as adults in a few months.
Some people ask, “Why don’t we see as many fireflies as we did as children?” Are we just not noticing? Or not outside as much? Unfortunately, firefly populations have declined, mainly due to light pollution, habitat destruction, and pesticides. How can you help? Check out www.firefly.org to find to more information or take part in a Firefly Watch though the Boston Museum of Science. To see what the firefly display looks like, check out Radim Schreiber’s website.
Catching fireflies is a fun summer activity, you can put them in a jar to get a close-up look. But then let them go so they can find their mates and contribute to the next generation for us to enjoy next year.
Allegany State Park will be offering special programs to provide visitors with the opportunity to view the Synchronous Fireflies this June. Please check our Facebook page in mid-June for more information. In the event of severe thunderstorms, the event will be cancelled. However, the fireflies do display in rain and you may still observe them on your own if you wish. Displays of the Synchronous firefly are best observed in a dark mature forest in order to experience the full effect. And if you miss these, you can watch for other more common species of fireflies in your back yard, campsite, or parks across the state from June to August. For information on this and other programs, please check Allegany State Park’s activity schedule on Facebook or call 716-354-9101 ext. 232.
Post by Adele Wellman, OPRHP, Allegany State Park, Lead Naturalist