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CRITTER SPOTLIGHT: Eastern Firefly (Photinus pyralis)

Good Morning Watershed Explorers,

I hope you have all remembered to wish that special person that is mom to you a very Happy Mother's Day.

Today's critter spotlight is about a critter that I have been excited to write about for a while. It's a critter that enchanted my childhood and one that I hope brings delight to you all as well. It's the common eastern firefly (Photinus pyralis). Most tales of barefoot children running around with jars catching "lightning bugs" usually take place in the summer. However, fireflies are out and about right now!

Photinus pyralis is one of the most common of almost 2,000 species of fireflies, and it is the one that you will most likely spot in your backyard in Rhode Island. Not all fireflies create light, but Photinus pyralis does! The common eastern firefly is actually not a fly at all! It's a beetle! This insect has the three parts that we identified during our macro-invertebrate lessons, head, thorax, and abdomen. You might remember our song! It also has two wings, two antennae, an exoskeleton, compound eyes, and six jointed legs. Larvae are often called "glow worms" as they emit light as well.


The common eastern firefly can be found in many habitats from forests to fields. They also like gardens.


Both the adult and the larva of the common eastern firefly are carnivorous. They feed on insects, earthworms, and snails. Fireflies will also feed on their own species or other species of fireflies if no other food is present. Like the giant water bug that we learned about in a previous post, fireflies will inject their prey with poison to liquefy them so they can suck up the food.

Watershed Role:

Fireflies have been used in science for their bioluminescence. In order to create their glow, fireflies use a special complex organic compound called luciferase. This compound has been studied and used for medical procedures.

In a few recent articles in February of this year, it has been documented that firefly populations are declining. Scientists are linking this decline to light pollution, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and habitat loss. All of these problems have an impact on all watershed creatures!

In Friday's post about inviting wildlife to your yard, I referenced an article about fireflies. If you didn't have a chance to read it, I am including the link again below. There are many ways that we can all respect nature and ensure that special creatures like the common eastern firefly stay safe!

Here is a picture of a common eastern firefly that my youngest daughter found just a few days ago. We can't wait to sit outside and watch the light show!

Happy Mother's Day to all of the wonderful Watershed Explorer moms! Enjoy the beautiful day!

Much love,

Mrs. Morissette

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