Life in the Garden

Celebrate summer with nature’s finest fireworks – the firefly

By Cindy and Ed Moura
Posted 6/18/24

The longest day of the year will occur this week, signaling the official start of the summer season. School vacation, peak garden blooms, sunny days at the beach, backyard cookouts, farm fresh …

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Life in the Garden

Celebrate summer with nature’s finest fireworks – the firefly


The longest day of the year will occur this week, signaling the official start of the summer season. School vacation, peak garden blooms, sunny days at the beach, backyard cookouts, farm fresh produce, and warm summer nights filled with the flashing magic of fireflies all lie ahead of us now. But at least one of these may soon be a thing of the past.

Fireflies are disappearing, and if the trend continues the next generation may never have a chance to experience their magic on a muggy summer night. Scientists don’t know enough about fireflies to be certain why they are disappearing, just that they are. But researchers are quickly pinpointing the main causes of the declines to be habitat loss, light pollution, and pesticide use, essentially the same things that are contributing to the alarming decline in insects, birds, and biodiversity overall.

The good news is that anyone can create a firefly haven right at home, helping to replace the natural habitats that have been lost to development. Habitat loss happens in obvious ways when natural areas are replaced with buildings, roadways, and parking lots. But it also happens in more subtle ways in highly manicured landscapes at home and in our communities.

Fireflies are considered ideal bioindicators – reliable indicators of environmental health. Essentially, the presence of large numbers of fireflies signals a healthy place, with sound land management practices at play. When you walk out your own door on a summer night does your yard light up with the flashes of fireflies? Congratulations, you are helping light the way for generations to follow.

Big benefits from a little bug

Attracting fireflies does more than just bring magic to the night. Firefly larvae are voracious eaters of garden pests like slugs and snails. Since fireflies spend up to 95 percent of their one-to-two-year life in the larval stage, that’s a lot of beneficial pest control from these little wonders. Also called lightening bugs, these beetles live in soil and leaf litter until they finally pupate to become adults. Adults live for just a few weeks, and in that time females seek out a safe place to lay eggs for the next generation.

If you want to do more to nurture nature’s night show right at home, here are some strategies to embrace:

n Plant native vegetation of varying heights and types. Specifically select an array of native trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, groundcovers and herbaceous perennials, and plant them in groupings and layers. This provides shelter and perches for fireflies who use different canopy heights for varied flash displays.

n Welcome shady spaces. The shade created by trees and shrubs helps maintain the ground moisture fireflies need to survive. Rather than surrounding trees and shrubs with mulch beds, create soft landings of native vegetation under and around your woodie plants. This approach doesn’t just benefit fireflies, it is good for pollinators, stormwater management, and garden aesthetics alike.

n Incorporate tested firefly favorites like Asters, Goldenrods, Button Bush, Elderberry, Summersweet, Dogwood, Swamp Milkweed, Ironweed, and lots of Native Grasses and Ferns. Be sure to find places for evergreens which help to buffer unwanted light pollution and toxins from adjacent areas. American Holly and Pines are favored evergreens for firefly habitats.

n Leave leaf litter, fallen pine needles, tree snags, old logs, and other naturally safe places for fireflies to mate, hunt, and overwinter. Create wild corners if you aren’t ready to walk on the wild side in your whole yard. Doing this will also help countless pollinators and other small creatures by providing vital wintertime habitat.

n Create intentional pathways through planted spaces to minimize foot traffic in garden areas. These can be elaborate hardscapes, simple mowed paths, or strategic steppingstones here and there. Maintain areas where you can consistently prevent mowing, digging, and regular walking, all of which lead to trampling of larvae and flightless adult female fireflies.

n Eliminate pesticide use, which kills fireflies along with countless other beneficial insects. Keep in mind, 95% of insects are beneficial; when you kill them, you just inherit their job. Living underground for up to two years makes fireflies especially susceptible to the habitual use of lawn treatments, which include ample doses of pesticides. Adult fireflies are also impacted by the growing trend of indiscriminate mosquito fogging, which kills far more fireflies, dragonflies, and pollinators than it does target pests.

n Flip a switch! Minimize light pollution and follow “dark skies” guidance for outdoor lighting. This includes only using light when necessary and utilizing timers and motion sensors to minimize the amount of time outdoor lighting is on. Change bulbs to warm amber tones. While newer LED bulbs in bright blue light tones may be longer lasting, their hue is especially detrimental to fireflies and other pollinators. When possible, try to direct light down instead of up at the sky.

A yard aglow with the flashes of fireflies will rival any man-made fireworks display. So, get ready to celebrate World Firefly Day, coming up on July 2, by doubling down on efforts to create firefly friendly spaces across the East Bay. You can even certify your yard as a Firefly Habitat by visiting

When you create a firefly habitat you simultaneously create a space that is safe for all pollinators, songbirds, and wildlife. You also create a space that is healthier for your family, your pets, and your community. Those are some great summertime garden goals.

“Life in the Garden” brings eco-friendly garden tips from Cindy and Ed Moura of Prickly Ed’s Cactus Patch Native Plant Emporium, where they are passionate about helping people realize the essential role everyone can play in supporting life right outside their own doors.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.