When fireflies start their early summer dance, will they pick your yard for their display? Like most insects (and like most vertebrate species except humans and farmed animals), firefly numbers are in a steep decline, but there are steps we can take to foster them on our properties. Taking those steps has far-reaching benefits even beyond the joy of having our own private light shows. What we do to create habitat for fireflies can go a long way toward restoring life to our yards in general.
The first step in creating usable habitat is to plant (and preserve) native plants and trees and to remove invasive non-native plants. This is because most plant-eating insects can only eat the plants with which they evolved. Fireflies don’t eat plants, though, so how does this apply? The answer lies in the food web concept. Predatory insects such as fireflies, dragonflies, ladybeetles, etc, eat the critters that eat the native plants. Sources of native plants for your landscape can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website.
The next step is to provide shelter and breeding sites. This translates into leaving the dead leaves in place and devoting as much of your yard as you can to natural landscaping. Dead leaves not only are home to many tiny critters including butterfly larvae, they are a welcome addition to landscaped areas, since they protect and nourish the soil. Perennials poke right up between them in the spring.
The third step may seem less intuitive but is understandable once you think about it: reducing outdoor lighting. If fireflies can’t see potential mates blinking, they won’t be able to get together. Light pollution has negative impacts on many other beings as well. Moths exhaust themselves circling around lights. Migrating birds have trouble navigating. We can help by using warm-spectrum LED lights bulbs 3,000 K or less (which don’t attract moths) and by installing motion-detectors, assuming any outdoor lighting is needed at all. Lighting up our properties at night is as rude to our non-human neighbors as playing loud music outdoors is to our human ones, only with more lethal consequences.
The final step is the simplest of all to implement: do not use insecticides outdoors unless there is a dire need, such as a hornet’s nest over the front door. There are many better ways to deal with mosquitoes and ticks. What most people don’t realize is that insecticides (such as sprays for adult mosquitoes) kill all insects, including fireflies, bees, butterflies, crickets, etc, and totally upset the natural balance between predators and prey that is necessary for a healthy garden and ecosystem. Outdoor chemicals in general have many unfortunate consequences for the environment, but the indiscriminate use of insecticides is the most immediately destructive.
Because what is good for them is good for the other inhabitants of our properties, fireflies are the symbol chosen for the Homegrown National Park movement led by famous entomologist Doug Tallamy. His concept is that if we all give sanctuary to fireflies, butterflies, and birds in our yards, it will add up to far more habitat than even the largest of our national parks. If you have been planting native plants, you can add your property to the map and demonstrate your care for the planet, starting right at home: https://www.homegrownnationalpark.org/.