(ABC4) – “You would not believe your eyes, if 10 million fireflies lit up the world as I fell asleep.”
The opening lyrics of Owl City’s “Fireflies” capture the magical experience of witnessing a night sky full of these blinking beauties, also known as lightning bugs.
It may come as a surprise to some that the Beehive State is in fact home to fireflies, though experts still have lots to learn about these mysterious bugs in Utah.
“We’ve just been trying to get a sense of the range of where fireflies are just to have an understanding of where they’re at,” Christy Bills, Invertebrate Collections Manager at the Natural History Museum of Utah, tells ABC4. “There’s not very much that’s known about them. Like, we don’t know exactly how long they live or exactly what species are out there.”
And it doesn’t help that the insects only fly during a short window of time in Utah: from late May through early July.
Even those who have lived in Utah their entire life may never have encountered the bugs. Bills outlines to ABC4 the perfect conditions to spot fireflies.
Bills says irrigated farmland like pastures and places where they can cohabitate with livestock are prime firefly territory.
“So where they fly is in marshy areas, but not ponds, or lakes or rivers. It’s areas that are spring-fed wetlands, like meadows that have a little bit of water flowing through them,” she says. “But also places that are irrigated for farmland.”
Darkness is another factor. Bills advises those searching for fireflies to turn off flashlights and standstill in the dark to look for them.
“The other thing is, you can’t be driving past in a car,” she explains. “If you drive past you will not have any hope of seeing them. You have to stop your car, get out, hold still in the dark, and then wait just a couple of minutes. And you have to be patient a little bit.”
Fireflies will begin to light up when it is dark outside: 9:45 p.m. to 10 p.m. is usually when it gets dark enough to see them in the summer, she explains.
Bills says even people who recreate outdoors frequently might miss them because they may not recreate where it is marshy. Or they may be in their tents by 10 p.m. or using flashlights that make it hard to spot the insects. Fireflies will also avoid city lights because they use their own lights to communicate with one another, she adds.
And though it can take the proper conditions to notice them, fireflies have been found in 26 out of 29 Utah counties so far.
The following map shows locations of firefly sightings reported through the Western Firefly Project.
“So they’re all really actually widespread throughout the state. It’s just a matter of looking in the right place at the right time,” Bills states.
She says finding lightning bugs is sometimes just a matter of being aware of your surroundings.
“Fireflies aren’t strong fliers. They’re a soft body, little beetle. And they don’t go real far. So if they’re in a particular area, they’re not going to be widespread throughout that entire space. So I usually say that, when I see them in a space, it’s never bigger than like a baseball field,” she explains. And it’s easy for people to be looking in one direction, and just not turn around and look behind them.”
However, Utah’s current drought has Bills concerned since fireflies thrive in marshy areas. Fortunately, Utahns can help.
“Anything you do for water conservation that you would do in the drought helps fireflies,” she states. “Protecting wetlands is protecting fireflies.”
Utahns can also help researchers learn more about fireflies by filling out an online form explaining where and when they sighted them, as part of the Western Firefly Project.
Visit nhmu.utah.edu for more information about fireflies in the Western United States.