Those hordes of invaders are fireflies, also known as lightning bugs. Actually they are neither bugs nor flies. They are beetles. Glow worms are lightning bug larvae. Because of the wet spring, we have a bumper crop of the critters, all out looking for love in all the right places, according to the Washington Post:

The tiny lights shone in Virginia, too. In Alexandria a figure chased a waist-high yellow light across her yard — driven to obsession by flashes of unrequited love.

“I’ll go, like, catch a male and bring it over to the females. It’s really ridiculous,” said Kate Pabis, 36, a guidance counselor. “I just almost, like, feel sexual frustration for them. It’s like, ‘Come on, people! Let’s get together!’ ”

In recent decades, scientists have been able to translate snippets of this firefly babel. They say the flashes are a muddle of conversations, usually several species communicating in the same meadow.

They’re talking — as animals usually are — about sex.


Their audience is down in the grass, females who wait an interval, specific to their species, before responding with a blink or two

The bugs in the air are all male, each flashing out a pattern distinctive to his species. The Big Dipper firefly, one of the most common here, gives a long flash while flying in a “J” pattern. Photinus macdermotti flies straight and slow, flashing twice every six seconds. Some are Morse-code dots –blink.blink.blink. — and some are dashes, bliiiink . . . bliiink.

The life span of a firefly is only a couple of weeks. Their numbers have also dwindled over the years because of pesticides, lawn treatments, and bug bounties put out by chemical companies. Kids caught up jarfuls of fireflies so that the companies could study the chemicals in the bug-butts that light up.

There are about 200 species of firefly in the United States. The male firefly, in some cases, is always in imminent danger during mating season. Some get the big come on only to meet a cruel death. Here are some examples of the treachery.

In some cases, the come-hither responses are a deadly ruse, from a larger species that has cracked its prey’s code. When the male flies down to investigate, this femme fatale firefly will eat it, extracting chemicals it needs to ward off the things that might eat it.

In other cases, the males have trouble finding their mates in the forest of grass blades. Or the females don’t flash back at all. Recent research has shown they sometimes prefer males who flash longer and faster — which, for reasons involving the mechanics of firefly sex, may be better mates.

Just looking around outside, there appears to be a firefly fest. Arlington County plans several activities to celebrate the fireflies:

Alonso Abugattas, of the Arlington County parks department, said he waits for a male to flash and then responds with a quick flash from a penlight.

“You can convince the firefly that there’s a female there, so he’ll get closer, and he’ll do it again,” Abugattas said.

The county is holding a “Firefly Festival,” with storytelling, crafts and firefly hunts tomorrow from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Fort C.F. Smith Park.

In the Fort Hunt section of Alexandria, Pabis signed up for a “Firefly Watch” program run by the Museum of Science in Boston — and quickly found herself wrapped up in the drama of flash and response. One night, she saw female fireflies flashing alone, while apparently clueless males cruised above.

She caught one male with her and let him go right above a female.

“Nothing. She wouldn’t even flash,” Pabis said. “I guess they’re not satisfied.”

I don’t know how to tell boy fireflies from girl fireflies. All I know is there are a bunch of them outside this year. Fireflies have been intriguing kids for years. What kid hasn’t gone out with a jar to capture fireflies? That was back in the day when kids were taught to catch and release. That was also back in the day before kids were sent out by chemical companies to earn money by capturing huge jars full.

It is nice to know that I wasn’t imagining the greater number of fireflies. What are some of the things that take us back and remind us of summer? Certainly catching lightning bugs is a rite of passage.

Full Article

Sixpence None the Richer’s Kiss Me:

Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon’s sparkling
So kiss me

23 Thoughts to “Hordes of Invaders Have a Summer of Love”

  1. Rebecca

    I was out for a while last night. I did not see an unusual amount of fireflies. Are they just in Arlington?

  2. IVAN

    Got plenty in my backyard here in Manassas. They drive my dog crazy.

  3. Rebecca

    What does your dog to do them, Ivan?

  4. ShellyB

    We have seen the usual number of them. The dog pays them no mind. But the kids enjoy them.

  5. IVAN

    Rebecca, When they flash, he runs over, but when he gets there he can’t find them. He spends alot of time running around in circles trying to find those little lights. It’s rarther funny to watch. At least he’s not barking at them. That could get old fast.

  6. Censored bybvbl

    Perhaps a decade or more ago my spouse and I drove up our street to find hundreds, if not thousands, of fireflies drifting slowly across the road in a trailing mass. We’ve never seen anything like it before or since – just the usual few at a time. I haven’t been able to find any info on the phenomena either with my usual short google search. (Actually, I haven’t done that google search for several years. Now’s the time to do it again.)

    What my walking partner and I have noticed is a dearth of butterfies this year.

  7. Censored bybvbl

    Need an “l” up there.

  8. Lafayette

    Ivan, my pug seems quite interesed in the flashing bugs too. I have to say this year is the most I’ve ever seen in my all my years in WG. I still enjoying catching one of the flashing fliers from time to time.

  9. Lafayette

    Hi, Censored!! What a great story about the flashing frenzy you and yours witnessed. I’ve also, noticed everyone calling them fireflies, we called them lightening bugs. Am I the only one that used that term? Maybe, it’s some Manassas thing, and all may not understand. 😉

  10. Censored bybvbl

    Hi, Lafayette! We always called them lightning bugs too.

    I found a blog which mentions synchronized flashing of fireflies near the Elkmont area of the Great Smokies – has a few pictures too.

  11. Lafayette

    Wow!! Those pictures are too cool. I like seeing them in WVA lots of open fields in the vallies. I’m glad to know that lightning bug is used by others too.

  12. Moon-howler

    I called them lightning bugs also. But I knew the name fireflies also. I haven’t noticed a lot of them every night, but I did notice a bunch about a week ago–nothing like Censored described though.

    Butterflies on

    You might have to go back one.

  13. Moon-howler

    Lightning bugs make your hands stink also.

    Not one of you laughed at my ‘hordes of invaders’ title 🙁

  14. You Wish

    We also called them lightning bugs – and they do stink after you leave them in a mayonnaise jar overnight. My grandmother used to give us old empty canning jars with holes punched in the lids to collect them – we’d get a ton of them and use them as nightlights in our bedrooms. It was fun, but they stunk to high heaven the next morning –

  15. Simon Stone

    So maybe all that glitters isn’t gold…..

    Oh man do they stink!

    How about that bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico?
    I would sure love to go there.

  16. Emma

    “Hordes of Invaders”


  17. You Wish

    @Simon Stone

    I’ve never heard of the bioluminescent bay before – thanks for the link!

  18. Moon-howler

    That bay was in National Geographic or Smithsonian a few years ago. I would be afraid something would crawl on me. Shudder. I would want to look but not touch.

    Thanks Emma, for acknowledging my feeble attempt. 😉

  19. Gainesville Resident

    I too have a lot on my property in Gainesville (but my back yard has woods on 2 sides of it) – and like Ivan, they drive my dog crazy! Actually, she has a good time chasing after them but never seems to catch them, since they don’t stay lit up long enough and she loses track of where they went in the dark.

  20. Gainesville Resident

    My dog doesn’t bark either, she just chases after them but never manages to catch one – it keeps her busy and gives her exercise, so that’s good. She chases the rabbits in our back yard too and also can’t catch them.

  21. Gainesville Resident

    I heard the term “lightning bugs” when I was young, and I grew up in New Jersey. Must not just be a local thing. All my relatives are from up north, so not just a southern thing either.

  22. Moon-howler

    You guys could train your dogs for lightning bug competition with a pen light that flicks off and on.

  23. Gainesville Resident

    I think my dog came “pre-trained” in that regard – no training required. Now if only it was as easy to train her not to go to the bathroom inside the house – THAT was a total challenge and it took much much longer than it should have. I wager my dog would do pretty good in any lightning bug competition – well, she can’t catch them but she spots every one and makes a good effort, until their light goes out. Maybe you are onto something with the flashlight training. Then again, do I want her catching those smelly things? Maybe it’s better if she just keeps not catching them – she has fun, it is good exercise, and I don’t know how good it would be for her to eat them anyway!

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