5 Ways to Support Fireflies in Your Yard

Light up your garden this summer when you create a firefly-friendly habitat!

Catching a firefly is like catching a star. It’s a core memory for many American children: the crisp summer evening air, the far-off songs of insects and frogs, and the magical glow of a firefly delicately cupped between a child’s hands. These incredible insects can be found in every state of the continental United States, with some regions boasting more than 50 species! Like many insects though, the fireflies are experiencing a sharp decline.

It’s estimated that one in three firefly species may be at risk of extinction. And the very yards that Americans hope to see fill with fireflies are actually a big reason why. Yard pesticides combined with the lack of habitat that lawns provide for these insects play a huge role in the decline of fireflies. Luckily, that means that how you care for your yard or garden can also be an instrumental part of the solution for saving these beloved bugs. Learn how you can turn your garden into a firefly-friendly habitat this summer and become a firefly champion!

A lightning bug (small and black) rests on a person's fingertip.
If you handle fireflies, be sure that you don’t have any insect repellant on your hands and wash your hands well afterward. Credit: Jena Ardell/Getty Images

1. Create Habitat by Planting Native and Reducing Lawn

Turf grass provides very little, if any, habitat for fireflies. Many firefly species depend on moist soil, ample landing spaces in the plants, and even some blooms for nectar and pollen sources. Turf grass struggles to provide these habitat elements. Its shallow roots do little to maintain soil moisture when compared with deep-rooted native plants. Meanwhile, when turf grass is mown, it is too short to provide much space for the fireflies to land and signal using their blinking patterns to find a mate. Some firefly species even eat nectar and pollen in their adult forms and will need nectar-filled summer blooms which grass does not provide.

Replacing areas of lawn with native plant beds that offer a diversity of species is an excellent way to create the basis of a healthy habitat for fireflies and hundreds of other wildlife species like butterflies, bees, and songbirds.

2. Leave the Leaves and Logs

Have you ever seen a baby firefly? Like many insects, fireflies begin their life looking a bit different from their adult forms. These fireflies have a larval stage in which they’re known as “glowworms”. In this larva stage, many species of fireflies spend their days in the damp layer of leaves and logs on the ground. If all of the leaves are raked and sent away in yard waste bags, the glowworms either lose their habitat or are even carted away as part of the yard waste! Without a good leaf layer, many fireflies will never even make it to adulthood.

Instead of carting away your fallen leaves, use them as a natural mulch in garden beds where they can provide shelter for the glowworms and many other wildlife too, like caterpillars and salamanders!

A firefly larvae (small caterpillar-like creature with a segmented body) crawls on the ground.
While firefly larva might look very different from the adult forms we’re most familiar with, they too can glow! Credit: Katja Schulz, Flickr

3. Add in a Water Source

Fireflies thrive in wetter areas. In fact, some of their larval forms even having gills! Adding in a water source like a small pond can go far in attracting many different species of fireflies to your garden. The water source will create a damper environment in the soil and support other insects that become food for the fireflies (did you know that many fireflies are carnivores as larva?).

If you have concerns about mosquitoes, you can simply add a mosquito dunk to the water source, which does not harm the fireflies or other beneficial wildlife that visit! You can also build a bat house to encourage mosquito-eating predators to frequent your yard; bats don’t typically eat fireflies due to the toxic compounds they contain.

4. Avoid Pesticides

Even if fireflies have everything they need to survive in your garden, it will all be for naught if they become the victims of lawn pesticides. The chemicals that many Americans put on their lawns and gardens impact many more species than they are intended to target. Not only that, but they also often wash off into local waterways where they continue to wreak havoc! Skip the lawn chemicals to help the fireflies and so many other wildlife species.

A close up photo of a firefly mid-flight.
In America alone, there are over 150 species of fireflies! Credit: Ali Majdfar/Getty Images

5. Reduce Light Pollution

For the lucky fireflies that do make it to adulthood, many will still have to contend with human-made obstacles. In order to find a mate of their same species, fireflies will communicate with unique light-blinking patterns. Artificial light sources like landscape and house lights can make this process difficult for fireflies. Opt for turning your outdoor lights off or put them on a motion-detector to limit their impact. Other wildlife like moths and even many bird species will also thank you for this easy switch!

Become a Firefly Champion

Turning your yard or garden into a firefly-friendly habitat can have a huge impact. But your garden is part of a larger ecosystem that includes all of your neighbors’ yards too! Share your knowledge about how to support these beloved bugs and consider getting your garden certified and putting a sign out to share what you are doing to help wildlife!