S26 Episode 02: Protecting and Appreciating Fireflies
Dr. Doug Taron, biologist and Chief Curator of the Chicago Academy of Sciences at the Peggy Notebaert Museum, discusses the unique characteristics of fireflies and how to appreciate and protect them.
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The common Eastern firefly is the most common species found in Illinois.
Quotes from the episode:
“As beetles, fireflies have a larval stage that looks very different from the adult stage. The larval fireflies are really rather wild looking creatures. They don’t fly, they look like tiny little trilobites, with big spikes sticking out to the sides. They look like mini dinosaurs. When you leave the leaves and twigs in your yard at the end of summer, you are offering protection to the larval stage. That’s the stage that’s out and about now. The larval fireflies are predatory. They feed on little tiny snails and slugs and earthworms and millipedes – really little creatures that live down in the leaf litter. So you are providing habitat to them by leaving leaf litter.”
“Like most insects in this part of the world, they have to survive the cold winters. And they do that by secreting large quantities of natural antifreezes into their body fluids. These natural antifreezes include chemicals like glycerol, which is chemically very similar to the antifreeze in your car.”
Fireflies live in the larvae stage most of the year, and depend on moist leaf litter and the small creatures living there as their food source.
About our Guest
Dr. Taron has been with the Chicago Academy of Sciences at the Peggy Notebaert Museum since its opening in 1999 and heads the insect conservation research. He received a BA in Biology from Colby College in Waterville, Maine in 1979 and a PhD from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1984.
Dr. Taron talked with WTTW News about fireflies in 2019, when it was a wet spring, which provided good habitat for fireflies. Watch the interview here.
Dr. Taron is Director of the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network. In this video, he demonstrates tagging monarch butterflies.
When and where to see them in northern Illinois: Adult fireflies are flying about and flashing their lights from mid-June through July. Look for them on a sultry evening, during a season with average or higher than average rainfall. They like moist habitats, and while they adapt to more urban and suburban settings, they are most abundant in wetlands. At the Naperville Park District, see them along the DuPage River at Pioneer Park, Knoch Knolls Park or DuPage River Park. Also recommended is the McKee Marsh at Blackwell Forest Preserve. Or look for them in your back yard.
Read an article from the National Recreation and Parks Association about how parks can protect fireflies.
Read a ParkTalk blog post about leaving the leaves for firefly habitat.
Look for nature programs at the Naperville Park District in the summer featuring fireflies.
Here is a reading list of children's books about fireflies that was in a Nature Discovery Kit at Knoch Knolls Nature Center:
- A Firefly’s Journey by Kat Rees D’Ambola
- Among a Thousand Fireflies by Helen Frost
- Fireflies by Carolyn Watson-Dubisch
- Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
- Fireflies in the Night by Judy Hawes
- Fireflies (Nocturnal Animals) by Mary R. Dunn
- Firefly Home by Jane Clarke
- Firefly, Light up the Sky by Eric Carle
- Fly, Firefly by Shana Keller
- How to Survive as a Firefly by Kristen Foote
- It’s Firefly Night by Dianne Ochiltree
- Living Lights: Fireflies in Your Backyard by Nancy Loewen
- Lucy’s Light (Once Upon a Garden) by Jo Rooks
- Next Time You See a Firefly by Emily Morgan
- Ten Flashing Fireflies by Philemon Sturges
- The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle
- You Can’t Go Far When You’re Stuck in a Jar by Alexandra Pool