Where Have All the Fireflies Gone? And How to Bring Them Back

Fireflies have disappeared because of overly manicured American yards… all we have to do to bring them back is let them get a little messy.

“Where have all the fireflies gone?” retired entomology professor and nature writer Gary Noel Ross asked himself as his woodland home became surrounded by more and more housing tracts and fewer and fewer trees in the 1980s.

Since then, he’s been working on creating a safe haven for fireflies and pollinators on his one-acre property, which is a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

In an article for Grit.com, he shares all he’s learned about bringing back the fireflies and all their twinkling nostalgia.

As the manicured lawns, golf courses and playgrounds of have suburbia spread, the fireflies have headed for the hills, Ross says.

“Making matters worse, fireflies and other insects on the wing at dusk are sensitive to the toxic sprays administered by mosquito abatement programs.”

RELATED: Light Pollution is Pushing Fireflies to Brink of Extinction, Study Finds

In his neighborhood in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the fireflies that twinkled like a million tiny stars have all but disappeared, except in Ross’s yard:

“Designed with a wealth of trees, shrubs, and heavy ground cover — a vigorous vine called Asiatic jasmine— my de facto woodland is shaded but accented with a formal sun-drenched garden featuring seasonal flowers noted for attracting pollinators.

Ross tips for creating a firefly-friendly yard:

1. Location. If you’re considering a new residence, select property that’s close to a natural, wooded area.

2. Plant trees. If you’re not in a wooded area, select a large area and plant deciduous (broadleaf) trees and bushes to create completely shaded ground.

3. Ground Cover. Install thick ground cover, such as an evergreen ivy or Asiatic jasmine.

4. Stop Raking Leaves. Don’t rake fallen leaves in autumn, but instead allow them to decay so they add humus to the soil.

5. Don’t use pesticides.

6. Water. Water your newly planted trees and ground cover until they are well established, and thick enough to retain water on their own.

7. Flowers. Plant flowers close to the shaded venue with heirloom or native species that attract pollinators.

8. Keep it messy. Let your yard get messy, at least in some places.

Fireflies lay as many as 500 eggs in low, shaded vegetation, atop ground litter, loose soil or rotting logs.

“Fireflies were concentrated in the darkest and most heavily vegetated sections of my landscape and not in the open and more illuminated flower garden,” Ross adds.

8. Patience. Years may pass before an adventuresome female firefly locates your landscape.

“Remember that adult fireflies don’t fly far from their breeding grounds and require a full year in an undisturbed area to complete their complicated life cycle.”

Don’t forget a mason jar for catching them (and then setting them free of course)!





19 responses to “Where Have All the Fireflies Gone? And How to Bring Them Back”

  1. Bhing Avatar

    I have the perpect place for fireflies. Thank you,I i will not disturb the area. This is the first time I saw fireflies and they are in my backyard. Im from the Philippines, Kalamansig, and we have a giant manggo tree,at nights the whole manggo tree eould light up. It was magical. Or we put in a jar and catch them to use as flashlight and it works, then we let them go when we arrived to our distanation.

  2. Cat Grayson Avatar
    Cat Grayson

    How can you tell males from females? Is it ok to find a mated pair (just last night I saw a pair stuck together), and transplant them to your yard?

  3. Cat Grayson Avatar
    Cat Grayson

    Can you find a bunch of eggs, and protect them in some sort of incubator like are available for monarch butterflies? (Can you move the incubating eggs to your property?)

  4. Cat Grayson Avatar
    Cat Grayson

    Why aren’t there fireflies west of the Rockies? Would it be possible to move them? Where do they fit in the biological life cycle? What do they eat? What eats them?

    1. George Avatar

      I grew up in Idaho but spent most summers with family in Wisconsin and Ohio. I was always told that it was a combination of heat and humidity. When you start to head west, there’s not enough humidity and the nights are too cold. I’m in eastern Kansas now and it was 78 the other morning when my friends in Idaho were complaining that it was 46 when they woke up. We had our AC running all night long, but when we lived in Idaho, we didn’t even own an air conditioner. If you look at the map at https://goo.gl/images/9SsTKF and compare it to maps of firefly sightings, you’ll notice that the fireflies are only in the green areas but the rocky mountains are all in the yellow, orange, and red areas.

    2. cheryl b Avatar
      cheryl b

      It’s a combination of elevation, temperature, and humidity. They like what they like!

    3. Charlotte Avatar

      I grew up in Idaho and when I was little I used to see them at my grandmas house. East Idaho, in the summers. But that was 40 years ago. I have not seen any since.

  5. Jennifer Avatar

    Wow, thanks for the info about attracting fireflys. My daughter and I used to sit on her slide and watch them in the field behind our home.
    My husband and I just bought a new home in a sm wooded community on the North Carolina coast. I so want to plant flowers the will attract Bees and Butterflies. Just added fireflys to my garden. Thanks again

  6. Piper Avatar

    Crazy but the mosquito sprays say safe for firefly and bees. But I bet they lie. I am trying not to do any spraying because we don’t use any other chemicals in yard. You can eat my yard of herbs, but the mosquitos are horrible and we are eaten up when we go outside.

    1. Kathy Avatar

      I’ve had a great deal of luck planting citronella grass in planters and placing them around my property- strategically placed in areas I frequent!

    2. Hermann Schmitt Avatar
      Hermann Schmitt

      Use a little lemongrass-oil on youyrself > the mosquitos and other biting bugs will stay away from you.

  7. Ally DeRaaf Avatar
    Ally DeRaaf

    Years ago we were treated to a firefly spectacle the likes of which I’d never seen before or after.
    I have never seen them again. Nothing has changed on the homestead. In fact the area they appeared would be considered even more attractive to them now. Any idea what could have happened?

  8. Betsy Avatar

    Thank you for the tips

  9. Tom Valerius Avatar
    Tom Valerius

    Sorry to put H2O on your Fire Fly “suggestions” but there were NONE – exact suggestions – That is! Although your write=up was salted with ecological tips – are there no firmer suggestion to inhance the “Fire-Fly” options! Playing Nice/Nice with nature is meritorous but NOT ON POINT!

  10. JimS Avatar

    I wonder if putting blinking lights in my yard would attract fireflies? After all, that is how they attract each other, right?

    1. cheryl b Avatar
      cheryl b

      Your blinking lights are speaking a foreign language!

  11. Abraham George Avatar
    Abraham George

    Thinking of my childhood days in an estate 50 years ago filled with nostalgia with fireflies appear at night twinkling lights,was a treat to watch.Near Kanjirapally in Kerala, South India.The present generation sadly aren’t able to see those exciting nature’s wonders nowadays.

  12. Max morman Avatar
    Max morman

    The fireflies demise in South arkansas happened as soon as the fire ants got established in this area. I doubt it was a coincidence. One good thing ,the tick population took a massive nose dive at that time to.

  13. Karen Proctor Avatar
    Karen Proctor

    Fireflies eat slugs, so having a garden is a plus. The years we plant a garden we see fireflies. This year no garden meant no fireflies. Also, they stay away from areas that are well lit. The darker the area the better. They have to have it dark so their lights will reach farther and attract the opposite sex. We live on a farm in east NC.