Firefly Nature Study

Enjoy firefly nature study in the late spring and early summer when bioluminescence abounds at dusk!

It’s so exciting to be back with you for another season of the NSNS podcast. This summer, we’ll be learning about all sorts of fun and interesting bite-sized topics together!

Just like last season, each episode will encourage you to go on a nature walk to complete at least one fun nature journaling activity. To be prepared ahead of time, be sure to grab this season’s free downloadable packet that includes a list of weekly release dates and study topics, the suggested nature walk supplies for each episode, and even lists of correlating field guides. Reference pages to teaching sections from The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock and supporting curriculum suggestions are included, too. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to download the free Podcast Plus+ Packet.)

Members of No Sweat Nature Study LIVE have access to a special version of the Podcast Plus+ Packet that includes everything I already mentioned, plus a list of fiction and non-fiction books that go along with each of this season’s episodes!

fireflies at dusk

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What is a Firefly?

I didn’t grow up calling fireflies fireflies. Instead, my family always called them lightning bugs. Believe it or not, there are lots of other names these amazing creatures sometimes go by, too, like firebugs, firebeetles, fireworms, lantern flies, candle flies, or glowworms.

Interestingly, that group of names seems to classify the insects as either flies, beetles, or worms. Hmmm. I wonder which if any of those is correct?

You probably know that worms are not insects at all. Adult insects have three body parts – a head, thorax, and abdomen – with six legs growing from the thorax and a pair of antennae growing from the head. Insects often have wings, too. That doesn’t seem to describe what we know of as a worm at all does it?

I have a strong feeling the term worm is sometimes used because many insects, including fireflies, resemble worms when they are in the larva stage of their life cycle.

Insect Complete Metamorphosis

Let’s chat about the larvae stage of an insect just in case you don’t know about it. We don’t have time in this episode to talk about everything having to do with the life cycle of insects, so I’ll keep it brief.

As insects grow, they go through some distinct changes. Fireflies are part of a group of insects that go through four changes  – called a complete metamorphosis.

In stage one of the complete metamorphosis, an insect begins life in an egg. Upon hatching from the egg, it enters stage two and in known as a larva. A larva often looks like a worm or caterpillar. Stage three is the pupa stage when the wormlike larva builds a protective casing around itself in order to change into an adult. The pupa casing is usually called a chrysalis or cocoon. Stage four of the life cycle occurs when an adult insect emerges from the pupa casing, rarely looking anything like it did as a larva!

glowing firefly larva

Firefly Larvae

You might be surprised to know that fireflies can often glow even in the larva stage. Firefly larva live in the soil. Can you imagine digging through the soil only to find something glowing in there?

Firefly larvae spend the night hours hunting critters that live in the soil like slugs or worms. This makes firefly larvae carnivores and nocturnal. Carnivores are animals that eat meat and nocturnal animals are the ones that are active at night.

Are Fireflies Flies or Beetles?

OK, back to the original question. If we know fireflies aren’t worms, what are they? Flies or beetles or something else? Flies and beetles are both are insects and fireflies are definitely one or the other. Can you guess which one is correct?

They are beetles!

Likely, they’ve been nicknamed flies because they fly around during the adult stage of their life cycle. But, what make them a beetle is a unique set of wings. They actually have two pairs, one set for flying which is covered by another set of hard forewings called elytra. The stiff and sturdy elytra protect the flying wings.

You may have noticed these hard forewings on ladybugs before. Ladybugs are also beetles!

adult firefly

Lampyrid Family

If you know anything about the way scientists work, you’ve probably already guessed that all of the fun names we’ve heard for fireflies thus far are just nicknames. There is an official name that’s much more scientific. Fireflies are lampyrids.

Lampyrids seems like a fancy family name, but maybe it’s not too fancy. Do you hear the word “lamp” in there? I bet you can guess where that came from! Yes, the lamp-like glowing that fireflies can do!

Firefly Nature Study Challenge

Grab your nature journal and some colored pencils or markers. A trowel would be helpful, too. If you have a glass jar, ask permission to take that outside with you, too.

I’m going to give you a daytime nature walk option and a dusk nature walk option for your firefly nature study.

closeup of a firefly larva

Daytime Firefly Nature Study Challenge

Fireflies spend up to two years of their life as larvae living in the soil and only about two weeks as adults that fly around. Even though firefly larvae are nocturnal, you may be able to find some when you dig around in the soil with your hand or a trowel.

You’re searching for roly-poly looking critters that seem to be covered in layers of brown armor. They are usually about ¾” long. If you do find firefly larvae, sketch what you see in your nature journal.

Firefly Flashing at Night

Dusk Firefly Nature Study Challenge

For a month or so in late May and early June, depending on where you live, you may be able to view glowing, adult fireflies at dusk. Dusk is the time when the sun is just beginning to go down for the night up to the time that it’s fully dark. During the daytime hours, adult fireflies spend their time hiding in tall grasses or under the leaves of bushes. But at dusk, they come out to glow their amazing bioluminescent lights to attract mates for making new baby fireflies.

If you have the opportunity to see fireflies at dusk, use the glass jar to catch one. As one flies low, simply scoop it into the jar and hold your hand over the top to keep it in the jar for a minute or two. Observe their boluminescence (or glowing) in action and then sketch what you see in your nature journal.

Be nice and gentle with the firefly and let it go once you’re finished observing.

Join me next week as we learn about life under a rock. Until then, happy nature exploring!

Online Nature Study Classes

Your entire family can enjoy nature study classes with Mrs. Cindy via live or recorded videos. The 45-60 minute classes will give your children something fun and valuable to do as science curriculum or on days when momma needs a moment. Join us!

Resources

No Sweat Nature Study LIVENight Creatures Nature StudyButterfly Nature StudyAnimal Life Cycles Nature StudyNocturnal Animals Nature StudyHandbook of Nature StudyThe Handbook Of Nature Study in Color - InsectsFireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs: Identification and Natural History of the Fireflies of the Eastern and Central United States and Canada (Wormsloe Foundation Nature Books)National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders: North America (National Audubon Society Field Guides)Canson 100510926 XL Mix Media Paper Pad, 98 Pound, 7 x 10 Inch, 60 SheetsSargent Art 09338000912 Pencils, 50 Count (Pack of 1), MulticolorEdward Tools Garden Trowel - Heavy Duty Carbon Steel Garden Hand Shovel with Ergonomic Grip - Stronger Than Stainless Steel - Depth Marker Measurements for More consistent PlantingKids Bug Catcher Kit for Outdoor Explorer Bug Collection, Magnifying Glass, Butterfly Net, Critter Case, Tweezers and Bug Observation Container for Boys and Girls Toddlers Science Educational Playset

 

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