- Size: Adults approximately ¾” long.
- Color: Pronotum (cover protecting head) is reddish with yellow edges and black dot in center; elytra (wing covers) are black with yellow edges.
- Habitat: Grassy areas like fields and lawns.
- Where and when to observe: Watch for them in nearly every park during summer, soon after sunset.
Call them what you will – light bugs, lightning bugs, fireflies – there is one thing we can agree on: these ubiquitous summer insects remind us of the balmy nights of summer when school books were exchanged for more leisurely pursuits.
While nearly 200 species exist, the Lightning Bug most New Yorkers are familiar with is Photinus pyralis.
Adults measure about ¾” long. What is commonly considered the head is actually a protective cover called the pronotum, a reddish shield with yellow edges and a black dot in the center. Wing covers, called elytra, are black and lined in yellow.
The greenish-yellow light show is produced by an enzyme chemical reaction in the end of the abdomen, and the resulting illumination is called bioluminescence. Males fly about and flash roughly every five seconds to signal a nearby flightless female on the ground who flashes back every two seconds.
After mating, females lay eggs in or on the soil that hatch four weeks later. Immature Lightning Bugs are called larvae and they burrow into the soil to feed on other insects. They remain in the soil through the winter but in spring pupate to become the adult form that helps us celebrate summer.
- Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day, published 2007 by Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America by Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman, published 2007 by Houghton Mifflin.
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders by Lorus and Margery Milne, published 1980 by Chanticleer Press.
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