Dr. Firefly

Produced by Terry Lynch, Naturalist & Photographer

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Welcome to Dr. Firefly's Homepage!

Hello firefly watchers and lovers! Welcome to Dr. Firefly's homepage. Over time we will be collecting firefly specimens and photographs from throughout North America and the world. These specimens will be used to make dichotomous keys that may be helpful to everyone, everywhere who is seriously interested in fireflies and who wants to take their studies to a higher level, which requires the identification of fireflies to genus and/or species.

I have been studying fireflies for over 40 years and enjoy helping others learn about fireflies. Many of my original firefly reports and articles are published on-line. I started the Firefly FAQ site some years ago to help answer questions about fireflies. Every summer as fireflies would begin to appear, people would go on the Internet, Google "fireflies" and my name would pop up; then I'd get emails asking me questions about fireflies. To save time and effort I therefore started the Firefly FAQ site. Sometime later I thought it would be a good idea to start a firefly forum so people who enjoyed watching and learning about fireflies could interact; however, the site I started was spammed and sabotaged, making it impossible to maintain. I then learned that the Museum of Science in Boston started a firefly watch site in 2008. After learning that those operating this site were not having everyone collect and identify specimens, I decided to see if I might be able to help. It is VERY IMPORTANT to identify insects when making any study of insects which involves their sightings, behavior, demographics or other factors, such as what is killing fireflies or causing the death or extermination of fireflies, in order that the information collected has significant weight and value. Otherwise people are just reporting UFO's, unidentified firefly objects. Unless one identifies the fireflies they are observing by actually collecting specimens, then their efforts are a waste of time and of little value to serious firefly researchers. It is therefore hoped that by asking everyone to collect fireflies and send them to Dr. Firefly, their firefly sightings will be of more significance.

You may send firefly specimens and photographs to Dr. Firefly. All specimens must be preserved in 70% alcohol and labeled clearly in pencil with the following information: name of collector, city, state, zip code and date collected. You may also include other information as the time and temperature when fireflies are collected; keen observers may also describe the flash pattern of the fireflies you observe, using a stop watch to determine the time between flashes and/or the number of pulses in an interval.

We would also like everyone to take a wide angle photograph of the landscape or area where they collect fireflies, showing a broad view of the terrain so that one may see the types of trees, vegetation and their general distribution. If you have a digital camera with a macro feature, you may send close-up photographs in the field showing them undisturbed upon vegetation in their natural habitat. When you take close-up photographs of fireflies, please try to fill the frame with the firefly. The firefly specimens and photographs sent will be used to build this site over time that it will be helpful to others in learning how to better identify the fireflies they observe. You may send as many different types of fireflies as you wish from your area.

After you collect firefly specimens do you observe any unusual behavior? Are the fireflies dying or becoming incapacitated shortly after being collected? Place specimens is a clean glass jar or Petri dish and observe the fireflies for any unusual behavior. Make a photographic record or video of any unusual behavior. Videos of fireflies dying which may be due to poisoning from mosquito foggers may be posted on You Tube. You can also send links to any record you are able to make of the demise of fireflies to Dr. Firefly that we may link to your photos or videos to help educate and inform everyone as to the plight of fireflies.

When collecting firefly specimens for identification, I recommend everyone use small, high quality specimen vials like the ones shown in the photograph below.

Insect specimens in small vials

Insects specimens in small vials containing 70% isopropyl alcohol.

If you need a few of these please let me know and I'll send you an Insect Collection Kit which includes up to three vials. You may order these using the PayPal button below.

Insect Collection Kit

After you collect fireflies, remember to label specimens in pencil with name of collector, city, state, zip code, and date collected. If you live in another country include the name of the province and country. Send firefly specimens the address below:

Terry Lynch, Naturalist
120 Anderson Street
Quitman, MS 39355

You can also send $15.00 cash or check payable to Terry Lynch for an Insect Collection Kit. If you collect fireflies or other insects prior to receiving your Insect Collection Kit, preserve them in 70% isopropyl alcohol immediately; then transfer them to the small vials when they arrive and send them back to me. I also use specimens to study and photograph and will give credit to any collectors if photographs are later published. Specimens cannot be returned and become the property of Terry Lynch. If you wish, you should keep any extra specimens for your own records.

Firefly Photographs

We will be presenting original firefly photographs here in the future. If you would like your firefly photos to be considered, please send them to Dr. Firefly. We are most interested in close-up photographs of fireflies in their natural habitat.

When you take photographs of fireflies please use a camera that has a macro zoom lens feature that allows you to fill the frame with the firefly as seen in the photograph at the top of this page. Use a flash to illuminate the firefly. Hint: Set your camera so that ISO is 100. Then use shutter priority and set speed to the highest permitted, like 1/1000 sec. to 1/2000 sec. What this will do is tend to produce a black background so that even if you take the photograph in the day time or at twilight, the resulting image will appear to be taken at night. To reduce glare from the flash you may place a piece of white or frosted acetate, plastic or other translucent material over the flash; for small digital cameras you may try using frosted plastic Scotch tape that is simply taped over the flash; for larger flash units you may use pieces of plastic cut from plastic milk cartons, which are often available in white plastic or frosted plastic (this makes an excellent usage for used plastic milk cartons). It is also recommended that you purchase a hand grip which screws into the bottom of your camera and permits you to hold the camera very steady when taking pictures; this will aid greatly in enabling you to produce very good photographs of fireflies, given in most cases you will not have time to set up a tripod. For more information see Firefly FAQ: How to Photograph Fireflies.

Firefly Keys

Over time we will be using photographs and specimens received to build dichotomous keys for firefly identification that everyone may use as a guide in identifying fireflies which they observe. You will receive credit if your specimens or photographs are used. We will also be making reference and/or giving credit to other literature which may be helpful in identifying the fireflies you observe and collect, given the flash pattern of male fireflies and female response is an important factor in identifying specimens. Our goal is to help the novice and those who are enthusiastic and interested in learning more about fireflies to more easily identify the fireflies they are watching. We hope to do this through everyone's help and contribution of firefly photographs and specimens. Thank you for contributing to this effort.

Firefly Flash-Patterns

There are over 170 species of fireflies in North America, even more if one includes those south of the border in Mexico. Fireflies which are closely related form demes or tribes such that all related fireflies have the same flash-pattern which maintains a social network, grouping or aggregate of the individual fireflies. Over time these demes or social networks expand and may come to dominate a large territory through a fierce competition between the various firefly species, such that the victor species may occur in large numbers, all members connected via a social network of their flash-patterns, that they may tend to flash in synchrony which may be seen when population density reaches a high level and where there are no barriers such as trees or other vegetation to obstruct viewing of large numbers of fireflies simultaneously.

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Fireflies have unique flash-patters which enable males and females to locate each other and which enable males to identify other males of their own species so that they may maintain a social network. This social networking enabled by identical flash patterns of males is vital to the survival of firefly species, as it results in the established demes or groups being perceived as a large body or society making it less vulnerable to predatory species of fireflies.

"A" is Photinus umbratus which has a short duration yellow hue "j" flash between flights and may fly about 2 - 3 feet above the ground or higher along the edges of forests and canopies formed by trees and vegetation. "B" is a rapid flying firefly which makes consecutive green hue blinking flashes as many as 7 times followed by a period of relatively straight flight over vegetation. "C" is a species of Pyractomena which makes a sparkling amber hue flash between flights and is seen in forests and/or around lakes bordered by forests. "D" is a species of Photuris or double-flasher which makes two green hue flashes every 2 seconds between long rapid flights. "E" is a species of Photinus which flexes its abdomen in flight while flashing to make a green hue "comma" shaped lateral flash. "F" is a low flying Photinus which makes short hopping flights between green hue flashes. Although each flash-pattern indicates a firefly, to confirm the identification of a particular species it is necessary to collect specimens, record their flash-pattern, and/or make careful morphological examination of the firefly, using dichotomous keys and comparing it to reference collections or descriptions of the various known firefly species. PHOTO and GRAPHIC © 2010 by Terry Lynch

You can help determine the types of fireflies you are observing in your area by collecting and sending specimens to Dr. Firefly. Over time we hope to get enough specimens and/or photographs to be able to firefly keys.

The Last Firefly

Watch The Last Firefly video. Comments are welcome.


The Last Firefly. Click on pic to watch the video of a firefly dying. After its maiden flight this firefly was behaving unusual so I made a video to record its behavior. What caused the firefly to act in this manner; had it been poisoned by breathing oil mist laidend with insecticides? Was it exposed to toxic agents in the air or water? Are the chemicals produced by big oil and chemical companies which are sold in large quantities to municipalities causing the disappearance of fireflies? How much money is being made, and paid by taxpayers, to control mosquitoes and inadvertently kill fireflies and the myriad of other harmless insects that are active at night? Is the carnage and senseless killing of fireflies and other harmless insect acceptable collateral damage in the war of man vs. mosquito?

I would like everyone to watch this video which prompts the question, "What is killing the fireflies?"

After watching this video please collect fireflies in your city, town or backyard and make your own photographic or video record of any unusual behavior. Are the fireflies you collect also exhibiting unusual behavior? Are foggers spaying for mosquitos before or after you watch for fireflies? If so, please collect specimens and photograph them; this is the best way to document what is happening to fireflies. Also by collecting and submitting specimens for identification, a record may be made for the future analysis of specimens to determine their exposure to toxins. This record may be vital to actually proving that fireflies are being killed by toxic chemicals, oil-based sprays. And guess who profits from oil-based sprays? Big oil and the chemical companies!

Unless firefly specimens are collected and a record is made, there is no physical evident to prove what is actually killing fireflies. When you have a dead body, be it human or firefly, you can perform an autopsy, or a "fireflytopsy" to determine the cause of death. But without a body, those who are responsible for the extermination of fireflies go free. And those who are proposing to investigate the extermination of fireflies who do not collect accurate data, including firefly specimens, are not doing good science and may make inaccurate, false reports.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not accusing anyone of contributing to the disappearance of fireflies, simply because specimens were not collected. I am simply offering to help those individuals who are serious about their firefly studies and want to know the truth. If those relatively few who are serious about their studies want to submit specimens and/or photographs, they are invited to do so. I would like to obtain preserved specimens for identification. Those who wish to voluntarily collect a few specimens from healthy firefly populations may do so. This will have no significant impact upon healthy firefly populations, but it may contribute to the significance, accuracy and merit of reports that firefly observers are making. It may also help determine what is actually causing the disappearance of fireflies.

All you have without the collection of a firefly and its identification, is a UFO, unidentified firefly object or observation. And without a firefly body, you will not be able to determine the cause of death. If one such observation is a UFO, then thousands of such observations are equally UFOs -- and cause of death remains speculative. Only those observations which are confirmed by physical evidence have a high degree of merit, and only when a firefly specimen is collected may cause of death, if it was not natural, be determined. Hence those few individuals who want to learn how to do good science and who take their firefly studies serious, may want to go that extra step and collect specimens. Unless that is done then you have BAD science, especially since you are studying insects and what is causing their unnatural death.

As for the concept of a "citizen scientist" that is a bogus concept. Everyone who was born, naturalized or applied for US citizenship after immigrating to this country and received such citizenship is a US citizen; but NOT everyone who is a citizen is a scientist. Watching fireflies does NOT make anyone a scientist, and certainly does not make them an entomologist. A scientist is someone who uses the systematics and the scientific method; when it comes to studying insects and their behavior this includes identifying the insects they are observing. Certainly a firefly is a firefly, just as a rose is a rose. But those who want their firefly studies or observations to have merit and be taken seriously, may want to have their fireflies identified. Also, collecting firefly specimens, photographing fireflies and making videos of fireflies, is the best way to document what is killing fireflies. When you have the dead body of a human or a firefly, you then have the essential and necessary key to establish the cause of death. Otherwise all you have is a data set based upon UFOs, unidentified firefly objects.

Certainly this fact is known by those who are scientists and who may be collecting data of "firefly sightings." Yet if the goal is to determine whether or not fireflies are disappearing and what may be the cause of such disappearance, why do not those making the study insist on collecting specimens and making analysis to determine the cause of death? What are they trying to cover up? Who is sponsoring their studies? By collecting specimens and/or making controlled experiments using known and identified species of fireflies, the reasons for the disappearance of fireflies may be established. The fact that no effort is being made to even collect and identify a single firefly observed by over 2,000 individuals participating in the MOS FFW as noted in a forum post makes anyone who is serious about the study of fireflies and their disappearance question the validity of the method being used. If the method is not sound, the conclusions reached may not be sound and everyone's efforts wasted.

The easiest way to correct this problem is to offer to identify specimens individuals collect. I have made that offer and will use any specimens received or photographs of fireflies to build a FREE site that may help others better identify the fireflies they are observing. This is an independent service I am offering. Anyone who wants to avail themselves of this service is invited to do so.

Probably a low percentage of the 2,000+ people making reports of firefly sightings will bother to collect and submit specimens; hence, an offer for specimens is insignificant when it comes to impacting a healthy firefly population. Compare this to the millions of fireflies being exterminated by municipalities that are over spraying for mosquitos and I think an argument being made against collecting and identifying a few specimens shows a clear lack of awareness and understanding of the situation. Also, certainly making photographs and/or videos of firefly specimens collected which show unusual behavior probably due to exposure to toxins, would be vital in helping to prove what is causing the disappearance of fireflies, especially in areas where foggers are spraying for mosquitos at the exact time fireflies are active.

I would like to ask everyone to watch The Last Firefly video and see what is happening to fireflies. Then decide for yourself if you want to collect and identify the fireflies you are seeing. I also recommend you collect fireflies and make your own videos of any unusual behavior, to see if the fireflies in your area have been exposed to toxic chemicals. This is one of the best ways to actually see what is happening to fireflies after a fogger goes through a neighborhood and decimates a healthy population of fireflies.

Unless people collect firefly specimens, make photographs or videos, have specimens identified, then the mass extermination of species will not be properly reported and false conclusions may be reached by inaccurate data. I challenge everyone who is serious about their firefly studies, who really is interested in knowing the truth, to collect fireflies and photograph and make videos of the fireflies you collect. I would very much like to see if the fireflies in your city, town or backyard are exhibiting unusual behavior and are dying as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals in the air as they make their maiden flights. And I would very much like to obtain specimens for fireflies from across the nation to identify. Who knows, perhaps "fireflytopsy" or CSI-EF (Crime Scene Investigation of Expiring Fireflies) fireflies will aid in determining the cause of death of fireflies and the true reason fireflies are disappearing. But even if that is not possible, seeing more videos like "The Last Firefly" may stimulate people to not only take an interest in watching fireflies, but in taking action to stop their mass extermination!

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Copyright © 2010 by Terry Lynch. All rights reserved.