Fireflies Count!

You can help save a really cool bug!

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Fireflies represent a totally unique form of life. A firefly generates light emissions using its own biological tools. Different fireflies have different flashes, but all fireflies are now in danger, say the experts. To help save the summer shimmer of the world’s fireflies, the Boston Museum of Science and Tufts University formed the Firefly Watch, a citizen-science project.

The process is simple. Researchers are asking people to count the fireflies they see in their backyards or in a nearby field once a week. Participants then send their findings to scientists through the Firefly Watch Web site. Experts will use the information that volunteers collect to track firefly population and health.

The project is called citizen-science because anyone, including you, can participate. I am involved in the project and so is Kid Reporter Caitlin Wardlow. I live in New Jersey. Caitlin is counting fireflies in her backyard in Connecticut. Most of the counting is being done east of the Mississippi River.

"I had never caught fireflies before," Wardlow said. "But my mom was telling me how when she was a kid all the kids in the neighborhood would run around at night and collect them in jars. Then they let them go."

You don't have to catch fireflies to count them. All you have to do is find a good location that meets Firefly Watch guidelines, stand still, and count all visible fireflies. The area has to be free of any uncontrolled light, like from cars, buildings, or street lights.

On my first week of counting, I saw 18 fireflies in 10 seconds. My sister saw 20. I estimated there were about 100 blinking lights from the fireflies in my one-acre backyard at that moment.

Wardlow also counted about 20 fireflies her first time out. She and I both did some research on the bugs.

Did you know that they flash so they can find each other in the dark? Male fireflies flash while patrolling an area. If a female is impressed with his flash, she answers him by flashing back, usually from a perch. If she doesn’t like the flash, she just stays quiet and dark, while the male flies on flashing away.

"I learned that fireflies are actually a type of beetle," Wardlow said. "And I am no longer grossed out by them!"

You can find out exactly how to participate in the count on the Firefly Watch Web site. Or check out my blog post about my backyard counting experience.

  • Subjects:
    Science, Animals

Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of 32 student reporters who report "news for kids, by kids." Sports, politics, and entertainment are among the topics they cover.