WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Depending on where you live or where you grew up, you may refer to the bug that lights up during the summer months as either a firefly or a lightning bug. Studies have actually been done on this difference across the United States and the preference is typically based on the weather phenomenon that most commonly occurs in those regions – wildfires to the west, thunderstorms to the east. Many in Kansas commonly refer to these beetles as lightning bugs.
Kansas is in an ideal location to see these bugs return each year as temperatures can be milder during the winter months and we tend to find more rainfall during the spring. Both factors contribute to a larger population of lightning bugs as well as an earlier appearance. Extreme weather swings whether cold or hot will compromise the firefly eggs which could either kill them off or cause stress which would delay their emergence. As long as temperatures are mild and there is a bit more humidity in the air, these bugs will thrive.
Not only do they put on a pretty light show for us as we sit back on the patio or deck and watch them emerge around sunset, but there is a reason behind their blinking bellies. The flashing light helps the males attract a female on the ground and in some cases feeding for the females. These lightning bugs rely on this blinking to protect themselves from predators.
The blinking is referred to as bioluminescence. It is a chemical reaction between the oxygen in the air and luciferin which is then converted to light. What is remarkable is that it is one of the most energy-efficient light sources because almost all of the energy is turned into light rather than heat. Different species of lightning bugs will emit different colors of light varying among yellow, orange or green. If you notice different colors flashing in the sky, you know you most likely have more than one species of lightning bug around you.
Here in Kansas, there are between 10 and 15 different types of lightning bugs. Unfortunately, the number of them in the world is on the decline as more of their habitat is overtaken due to human interaction and housing. These insects do not relocate if the population is disturbed, and instead, they will just disappear.
You will find them taking to the skies around sunset or shortly thereafter. You can find them to be most active on warm nights. Given that they are cold-blooded, if temperatures fall to 50° or below, they will start to move slower and not blink quite as fast as when the temperature is a little warmer. Here in Kansas, June and July are the times to see them emerging across your backyard or in any area with taller grasses. You will also find them near ponds, streams, lakes, or any body of water as that will add just a bit more humidity for them.
As we brisk through the month of July, hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy some of nature’s fireworks and marvel at how unique these tiny whimsical insects are!
— Meteorologist Erika Paige