Arkansas fireflies

Arkansas Fireflies: Lightning in Flight

When I was little, catching fireflies in the evenings was one of my favorite activities but, to Arkansans, they are actually called lightning bugs.

I don’t know why but my grandparents’ backyard was the place where all fireflies seemed together in our town. They had a big backyard that they kept beautifully manicured and planted with flowers of all sorts.

Maybe that is what drew the fireflies in.

I spent a lot of summer days and evenings at their house swimming in their pool and eating ice cream on the back patio. Once the sun started going down, the magic would always happen.

My grandmother would give each of us kids a jar and we would carefully walk around the backyard waiting for fireflies to light up. We would see one flash in front of us but before we could get there, it would have slowly floated away.

You need a keen eye to catch fireflies in Arkansas. They seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. 

Before we go any further, I would like to clarify that most of us Arkansans call them lightning bugs. I use the two words interchangeably now but, when I was growing up, they were always Lightening Bugs.

Fireflies vs lightning bugs, which do you say? Turns out, it might depend on where you’re from. In the South and Midwest, the parts of the country with the most lightning, they are frequently and almost exclusively referred to as lightning bugs. In the Northeast and West, they are called fireflies. Either way, they are the same bug.


No matter what the name, my siblings and I became very good at catching fireflies. Each of us would catch about 10 fireflies in our Mason jar and then we would punch holes in the lid for air. We would spend the next hour watching them light up and marveling at how beautiful and mysterious they were.

I didn’t give much thought to fireflies through high school and college, but when I got married, they crossed my mind again.

My husband and I bought a house in town about 4 months after we married. One of the things I noticed was that there never were fireflies in our backyard. This bothered me because not only did I enjoy the fireflies but I worried that the environment wasn’t suitable for them anymore.

Many years later, we bought 5 acres of woods in Arkansas.

It was then that I saw the magic happen again. One evening I was standing by the windows in our living room looking out at the deep woods behind the house. Suddenly, I saw one small blink of light on the left side of our woods. Then, I saw a blink on the right side that seemed to answer. Before I knew it, there were small flashes of light all through the dark woods. I just stood there marveling at the beautiful fireflies.

Arkansas fireflies are truly special. Generally, they can be spotted almost anywhere except in big cities. They are part of what makes all of our great Arkansas campgrounds special. If you take a few minutes to sit in the twilight before lighting up your campfire, you will see fireflies start to sparkle throughout the campground.

Now that I am older, I have learned more about fireflies in Arkansas. First, I have learned that the fireflies of my youth probably did not appreciate spending jail time in our Mason jars. I teach my kids differently. I teach them to observe animals and bugs in their wild surroundings.

Marveling at the tiny little bugs twinkling through the night air is magical. Much more magical than watching them in a jar.

Why Arkansas Fireflies Light Up

One of the biggest mysteries is the logic behind why fireflies light up.

Is it just for beauty? Are they talking?

As adults, many fireflies have flash patterns unique to their species and use them to identify other members of their species as well as to discriminate between members of the opposite sex. Several studies have shown that female fireflies choose mates depending upon specific male flash pattern characteristics. -source

Why Fireflies in Arkansas Are Disappearing in Some Areas

After more research, I learned that my worries about the lack of fireflies in our backyard at our house in town were legitimate.

Human light pollution is believed to interrupt firefly flash patterns. Scientists have observed that synchronous fireflies get out of synch for a few minutes after a car’s headlights pass. Light from homes, cars, stores, and streetlights may all make it difficult for fireflies to signal each other during mating—meaning fewer firefly larvae are born next season.source

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