Tips And Tools

In the Field

Now that you have registered and have completed your habitat sheet information, it is time to go out "into the field," as scientists say, and start collecting data. Get the most out of your field time with these tips and tools.

Wear Bug Spray

You find mosquitoes where you find fireflies, since they both like moist environments. Dress accordingly — wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt, and bring insect repellant.

Caution: Don't handle fireflies if you have insect repellant on your hands. It is not known what effect insect repellant has on fireflies; however, it is safer to assume that they find it as noxious as mosquitoes do.

Be On The Lookout for Ticks

Fireflies prefer tall grass adjacent to wooded areas — and so do ticks, which are also active at night. If your firefly habitat is near the woods, it's a good idea to take precautions:

  • Wear long pants and a long sleeve shirt.
  • Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants. By doing so, any tick that attaches to your shoes must walk up the outside of your socks, the outside of your pants, and the outside of your shirt before reaching skin. This gives you a better chance of spotting the tick and gives the tick a better chance of being brushed off your clothes before it can attach to you.
  • Spray your shoes, socks, and pant legs with insect repellant.
  • Take a shower when you are done for the night, and check yourself carefully for ticks.

Bring Your Recording Sheet

Print out a copy of the observation sheet (PDF) and bring it with you on a clipboard or something else to write on. This way, you can record your data as you collect it. Then, when you are back at the computer, it will be easy to just copy your data over to the online form.

You might also like to start a firefly notebook to record any field observations you make. You will be amazed how much you notice when you begin to write down what you see!

Shine a Blue Light to Safely Observe Fireflies

If you hope to observe fireflies in action, a flashlight is a must. However, since fireflies communicate with light, any time you shine a flashlight on them, it disrupts their communication, and they won't be able to conduct their nightly routine.

Luckily, fireflies can't see blue light. Turn your flashlight blue by taping a piece of blue acetate over your flashlight. You can find blue acetate at most art supply stores.

Learn the Pattern

As you begin to observe the fireflies in your habitat, you will quickly notice that they have different flash patterns. Each species of firefly has its own pattern. Since many fireflies look very similar and are difficult to see in the dark, scientists use these flash patterns to identify the particular fireflies they are studying.

With a little practice, you can learn to recognize many fireflies by their flash pattern.
Learn more about flash patterns with our Virtual Habitat.

Observing and Handling Fireflies

Catching fireflies is fun and a great way to observe them up close. If done correctly, little harm will come to the firefly. But remember, fireflies have some serious business to attend to, so you should disturb them as little as possible.

If you do decide to collect them, do so gently and only for a short time. Make sure you don't handle a firefly if you have insect repellant on your hands. If possible, use a net so you don't have to handle them at all.

Fireflies are susceptible to drying out, so if you put them in a jar, make sure you add a piece of moist paper towel to keep the jar humid. Let them go as soon as you have gotten a good look at them — they need to get back to work!

Volunteer to share your observations of fireflies in your backyard — no special scientific training required.
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Observing fireflies is a great summer activity. Join our network of volunteers and track your sightings throughout the season.
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Pick a location, observe it weekly, and use our online tools to follow your progress.
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You might see more than one type of firefly in your yard. New England fireflies fall into three main groups, and they can be identified by flash color, pattern, and location. Check out the Virtual Habitat to see what fireflies might look like in action.

- Go to the Habitat