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How to Lightning Bug

We have included everything you need to know and more to enjoy fireflies in the Hudson Valley this weekend. Where to find them, how to catch & store them, and the science behind the beetles.

When Do Lightning Bugs Come Out to Play?

Fireflies emerge for their short adult lifetime for just a few weeks in the beginning of Summer when temperatures are on the rise. The weather each year determines the exact lightning bug season, but the end of June through early July is usually the peak in Ulster County NY. Fireflies do not respond well to bright light, which is why you will start to see their little lights at dusk. It’s even recommended to shut of exterior lights at your home as to not deter lightning bugs from gathering there.

Where’s the Best Place to View Fireflies Near Me?

Lightning Bugs love warm wet bushy areas. Like mosquitos, you can find them around ponds, in your backyard, or anywhere there is standing water. Dark open areas that are closely surrounded by woods are ideal viewing points. If you live in NYC check out Central Park or another park near you. A local rail trail could also be an option, but they close at dusk so don’t stick around too long. Think of a place that fits these criterias and you are sure to find lightning bugs, as long as it is not too cold. These fantastic photographs taken in Tivoli, NY might inspire you.

Want to venture out to a secret local firefly viewing area in New Paltz? Head to Shivertown Road in New Paltz, NY. There are power lines on the east end that create the perfect backdrop for the dance of the lighting bugs. You can actually see them from your car where you will be safe from the attacking mosquitoes. The video does not even begin to capture the majesticness of these unique creatures. If you are in the area around sunset you can snap a few pictures of the mountains, and then head over to Shivertown Rd. After you see them scoot down to Stewarts for a milkshake or to Los Agaves for a Margherita. If you go Friday you might catch some fireworks & traffic.

Tips to Catch Lightning Bugs & Store Them in a Jar.

Fireflies only live for a few weeks at most and their mission is to make baby fireflies at that time. If you decide to catch them and observe them in a container, please only do so for a day or so. Ideally keep them for a few hours then release them before bedtime. The lightning bug population has been slightly declining for a variety of reasons, and you wouldn’t want to be one of them.

Get your firefly house ready. Each jar will house 2 or 3 lightning bugs.

What you need:

  • A large container with clear sides for viewing and an airtight lid. An empty Hurds Apple Sauce jar works perfectly.

  • An apple peeled and cut in quarters can add moisture to your jar and give your new special friends something to crawl on. Make sure to use a room temperature or warm apple. Most adult lightning bugs do not eat, but they need moisture. You will probably still want to supplement with a bit of misty water since dehydration is one of the leading causes of death in pet insects.

  • Long pieces of hay like grass or a straw (optional)

  • Some glow in the dark items can be taped to the inside of the jar before you begin to gather the lightning bugs.(optional)

* Note Do not overcrowd the jar, but feel free to add to the ambiance to make the fireflies a home away from home.

The catching is easy, but you do need a bit of patience. Fireflies do NOT bite, so have no fear. Your jar should be empty, unless you have securely taped glow items inside, until you get your fireflies in there. Make sure none of the sticky part is exposed, you wouldn't want your firefly to get stuck. Lightning bugs fly in unpredictable paths and it can be hard to see them when they are on the ground. If you are out at the very start of dusk you will have the advantage of being able to see their light and also follow them till they land.

Little hands would do better with a small bug net. It also will make getting them in the jar a bit easier because they won't have a chance of sneaking out of your hands. Once you have one within your reach carefully cup in your hands and place into the jar. It is probably best to work in partners so someone can take off and put on the lid while the other person delicately places the firefly into the jar. Try turning the jar upside down so that the lightning bug flies up into it. Some people recommend using flashlights with or without blue plastic on them to help attract fireflies, but is really not necessary.

Once you have caught your desired amount, maybe 3. The difficulty in getting the fireflies in the jar increases exponentially with each one. One jar per person or for every 2 could be a good idea. Now is the tough part, getting the rest of the items in the jar without letting any of your lightning bugs out. Gently slide apple pieces in being extra careful not to crush any fireflies in the process. Then place your hay or glow items delicately in as to not harm our endangered lightning bug friends. Sprinkle a bit of water in, definitely not enough to make a puddle, and close the lid tightly. They do not like cold or bright light, so keep them in a warm (not hot) dark place.

Remember to keep fireflies for just a short time in their jar house. If you keep them more than a day, not recommended, be sure to take the lid off and blow in it to refresh the air. When you release them, do it at night right back where you caught them. This could be the best time to get more photos of your happy fireflies, if you can withstand the mosquitoes. After the fireflies are free you can put a small strand of LED lights in the jar and use it as a night light or fun summer decoration.

What Makes Lightning Bugs Glow?

Special chemicals in their body react together to produce bioluminescent light. “When oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and the chemical luciferin in the presence of luciferase, a bioluminescent enzyme, light is produced.” This cold light does not waste energy in the form of heat like a light bulb, if it did the firefly would parish. Scientist are trying to reproduce this same reaction in plants in hopes someday they will be bright enough to read by.

What Do Fireflies Eat?

When they are full grown beetles they most likely do not eat, although some scientist have hypothesized that they eat pollen or nectar. Lightning bugs start out as eggs laid in water. A few weeks later they hatch and become tiny glow worms or larva. Their glowing effect warns predators that they don’t taste very good. These little crawling carnivores eat snails, slugs and worms for 1 to 3 years until the are ready to move on to the next stage of their life cycle. They crawl into the mud where they will undergo a 3 week metamorphosis in the safety of their hard shell. They emerge from the mud as full grown beetles who will only live a few short weeks during which time they are on a mission to reproduce.

Lightning Bug or Firefly, You Pick

You may have noticed that we use the terms interchangeably. According to a study done by NC State University that is typical of New Yorkers. There is no right or wrong name to call them because they are neither bug nor fly.

Check Out These Sites for More Fun Firefly Facts

This outside lightning bug adventure is sure to make some memories, even if you only pull off on the side of Shivertown Road for just a few minutes. Share your firefly photos or videos with us on your favorite social media platform. We would love to know where you like to view lightning bugs and how your catch and release went.

Orignialy Posted July 5, 2018


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