Firefly Watch Community Science Project combines an annual summer evening ritual with scientific research. Join a network of community scientists around the country by observing your own backyard and help scientists map fireflies.
Why Watch Fireflies?
Are firefly populations growing or shrinking, and what could lead to changes in their populations?
Mass Audubon is tracking the fate of these amazing insects. With your help, we hope to learn about the geographic distribution of fireflies and what environmental factors impact their abundance.
How to Participate
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!
Step 1: 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)
- Cloud cover
- Artificial light presence
Step 2: Get to Know Fireflies
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 Photuris.
Step 3: Count Fireflies & Observe 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. We also ask that participants record information such as habitat type, precipitation, artificial light, etc.
Step 4: Submit Your Observations
Sign up or log in to our Firefly Watch submission tool to record your observations.
View Data & Maps
Questions about the project? Explore our FAQ! If you don’t find the answer you were looking for, email us.
The simple answer is just before firefly season starts in your area. If you start observing before fireflies are expected to emerge, then you will be sure to record when they first appear in your habitat.
Yes! Please report once a week even if you don't see any fireflies. This is important for two reasons:
- It may be that you don't have any species of fireflies active early in the summer, but other fireflies will emerge later in the season. This is valuable information for firefly researchers.
- Researchers want to know what affects firefly populations. Why are they common in one area and absent in another? By looking at the data from the habitat sheets for areas with no fireflies, researchers might be able to begin to understand some of the important factors. That is why reporting no fireflies is just as useful as reporting many fireflies.
Collecting data for areas with no fireflies should only take a minute. Walk out into your backyard, look around for 10 seconds to make sure there are no fireflies present, and note the time, clouds, wind, and temperature.
Yes! Of course it is a lot more fun to monitor a site with fireflies than one without, so feel free to pick a second site. If you can, pick a site close to your home, because it will be easier to get to on a weekly basis. Make sure that you have permission to visit the site. A public site like a school yard or other town property is a good place to choose.
If you do choose a second site, please remember to send in data for your backyard site as well. That information is very important to us.
Yes! Of course, the more data you can collect, the better, but we appreciate any data you can send us. Even if you can only collect data for a few weeks during the summer, it will be very useful for us.
Different types of fireflies become active at different times through the summer. In New England, our earliest flashing fireflies (Pyractomena) fireflies show up in late May to early June; others will appear in June and July.
Different types of fireflies are also active at different times of night. Some begin flashing at dusk and remain active for less than an hour, while others start later and remain active until midnight. One of our early risers reports seeing fireflies at 4 in the morning.
For Firefly Watch, it doesn't matter when you observe and record. In fact, it might be fun to observe at different times of the evening and see if you can notice a difference in the fireflies you see. If you do this, each time should be its own observation entry.
No, because daytime fireflies are not part of this project. Please count only the fireflies that you see flashing. This is especially important in helping us determine when fireflies become active in your state. Some daytime fireflies appear much earlier in the season than the flashing fireflies, so entering data for them might skew our estimates of firefly emergence.
That’s really cool! But, as with the daytime fireflies, this project does not include larvae counts. However, that may make an interesting project for the future!
For Groups and Educators
Whether you are a 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.
Questions or need help? You can always email us.