Firefly Watch — Getting Started

Fireflies © Rel Ohara (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Fireflies © Rel Ohara (CC BY 2.0)

Fireflies © Rel Ohara (CC BY 2.0)

Training Video 

Not sure where to start? Here's a video tutorial!

Watch now >

Anyone in North America can participate in Firefly Watch! All you need to do is spend at least 10 minutes once a week during firefly season observing fireflies in one location (your backyard or in a nearby field). All firefly sightings—or lack thereof—are valuable.

Ready to be a firefly watcher? Great! Read on to find out how to begin.

Identify a Location

To be most useful, a location site should be fairly small and cohesive. It should be no larger than the area you can see easily while standing in one spot. A backyard that includes shrubs and trees can be considered one habitat, but a pasture bordering that yard would be considered a different habitat. 

Look around and get to know the location. Before reporting, you will be asked to provide a few basic details including:

  • Habitat type (and if it was mowed this firefly season)
  • Temperature
  • Precipitation
  • Wind
  • Cloud cover
  • Artificial light presence

Get to Know Fireflies

Firefly Flashes ID infographic
Click to enlarge

Also known as lightning bugs, fireflies are neither bugs nor flies; they are actually beetles that light up using a chemical reaction in their lower abdomen (the bottom part of their body). Some of them light up in a specific blinking pattern, like a secret code that they use to “talk” with other fireflies and to find mates.

All fireflies belong to the same beetle family, although three groups have different ways of attracting mates. Some fireflies make quick flashes, while other fireflies give long-lasting glows, and still others use invisible chemical signals.

In North America, there are three main families of flashing fireflies—Photinus, Pyractomena, and PhoturisLearn more about fireflies >

Counting Fireflies & Observing Flash Patterns

For Firefly Watch, we ask that participants count the number of flashing fireflies they see over the course of 10 minutes in three 10 second periods as well as the number of flashing patterns. See a visual guide to the different patterns > 

What to Look For & How to Submit Observations

Before you head out to observe fireflies, please review the questions that you will be asked to submit. All observations must be submitted via the online portal. 

Download the Questions

Sign Up / Submit Data

If you don't already have a Firefly Watch account, you'll be asked to create one after you enter your email address.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about the project? Explore our FAQ >

For Groups and Educators

Whether you are a school teacher, environmental educator, or a member of a garden club, Firefly Watch would like to help! We have assembled a number of free materials to help make your firefly program a success. Get the Firefly Watch Toolkit >