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Where Have All the Fireflies Gone?

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted August 10, 2023

Fireflies—or lightning bugs to some—are neither flies nor bugs. They are beetles that—even for those who understand the science—magically glow.

There are 26 different species in New Jersey alone, according to Richard Joyce, an endangered species biologist. Joyce talked to a group of central New Jersey residents who are concerned about the apparent drop in the population of fireflies.


Endangered species biologist Richard Joyce needs volunteers to help with his research on fireflies.

“Fireflies of the Mid-Atlantic: Who are they and what do they need from us,” was the title of his lecture. It was organized by Rutgers University on July 20.

Are fireflies disappearing? There is no proof, according to Joyce, because scientists have never really effectively kept track of the population. There is just a broad consensus that fireflies are in trouble.

Joyce is putting together what he calls a “Firefly Atlas” that will put these beloved beetles on the map.

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Both conservation professionals and regular people are invited to volunteer to study and protect these beloved insects that bring a sense of wonder to summer nights.

The Firefly Atlas invites participants from all backgrounds to look closely at fireflies and to share their sightings to inform conservation.

New Jersey is one of the focal states, where adult fireflies are active from June through August.

A common NJ firefly

The “big dipper” (Photinus pyralis) is a common NJ firefly.

Simply sign up to participate in the project by visiting the How to Participate page at

Participants will work with leading conservation biologists, including Joyce and Firefly Lead Candace Fallon, both of the Xerces Society.

"Get to know the lightening bug species living in your backyard. Learn what they need to survive. Things such as native flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees will help," Joyce says.

Also, avoid pesticides and other yard chemicals. And, when possible, try using a dim, red filtered light outside. Fireflies cannot see the color red, and it will not be as distracting as a bright white light.

“The fleeting wonder of watching fireflies reminds me not to take things for granted,” ­Joyce says.


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