Where have all the fireflies gone?
August 3, 2004 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Fireflies in Houston. As a kid growing up in Houston, I remember going out into the front yard every evening and seeing hundreds and hundreds of fireflies dancing through the air, one of the most magical memories of childhood. As I grew older, their numbers declined, slowly but surely (in fact, at one point as a kid, I thought I was partially responsible as I'd caught so many of 'em in Flintstones jelly jars). Now back in Houston as an adult, I haven't seen a one, and am wondering, where have all the fireflies gone? This site aims to tell you, and it's not just for Houstonians.
posted by WolfDaddy (41 comments total)
However, there have been firefly sightings in downtown areas as brightly lit and densely populated as Manhattan.

this garden in Hell's Kitchen has them (i love walking down that street and seeing the flashes), but i don't see them anywhere else in town, except for Central Park. They're one of the coolest things about summer.
posted by amberglow at 6:59 PM on August 3, 2004

fwiw, steven strogatz on fireflies :D cheers!
posted by kliuless at 7:24 PM on August 3, 2004

I miss fireflies. We called them lightning bugs, in St. Louis.

In Denver...no fireflies.
posted by kozad at 7:27 PM on August 3, 2004

I've seen lots of 'em this year in my neighborhood in Chicago. So, no shortage over here.
posted by edith at 7:29 PM on August 3, 2004

I just visited SC with my wife for the first time in the summer months. Riding from the airport to my parent's house, she asked: "What's all that sparkling on the grass?" She'd never seen fireflies (like kozad, we always called them lightning bugs) growing up in the Northwest. I can't imagine growing up without them.
posted by josephtate at 7:30 PM on August 3, 2004

We still have fireflys in Franklin, Massachusetts, but my backyard is a fricking swamp. One of the property lines is the Charles River, about 40 miles from where it becomes a better-known (and visible) river in Boston.

We usually see them in early July in the low-lying wooded areas (not up in the yard proper) behind our backyard - many years, it looks like a fairy land of magical twinkly lights - or a red hot bug disco, if you prefer a more prosaic (and realistic) description.
posted by yhbc at 7:35 PM on August 3, 2004

Looking out over the corn fields of rural Eastern Shore Maryland in late Spring you will see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lightning bugs as far as the eye can see. It is quite a sight to behold and always reminds me of Stephin Merritt's 100,000 Fireflies.
posted by shoepal at 7:42 PM on August 3, 2004

I remember lots of fireflies (yes, I call them lightning bugs too) when I visited St. Louis as a kid. A couple of weeks ago I took a walk in a dark, rural area in the Hudson Valley, in upstate New York, and saw more of them than I'd ever seen in my life.

I wonder what Icelanders think of them. Because I'm told that in Iceland, there are practically no insects, and I've heard of Icelanders freaking out upon seeing, say, a grasshopper or beetle.

We have fireflies in Brooklyn.
posted by swift at 7:47 PM on August 3, 2004

I saw fireflies as a 12 year old scout hiking Coyote Gulch in Southern Utah. A co-worker who recently did Paria Canyon said she's seen them as well.
posted by weston at 8:23 PM on August 3, 2004

My backyard, bordering on wood 1/2 mile deep and several long, has fireflies. They make me happy.

But, I miss loud frogs. There's a frog concentration only about 1/4 mile from where I live, in a little pond set in the same patch of woods.

My wife - unused to frog noises - was deeply disturbed the summer, at hearing the frog noises.

She was more than half convinced that the neighbors were harboring aliens.

"No", I reassured her, "just frogs".
posted by troutfishing at 8:36 PM on August 3, 2004

As a recently-moved Bostonian, I am constantly amused at the little green streaks of light dancing around my house. (Growing up out West, we didn't have them). At age 36, this is the first time I've ever seen live fireflies. One got in the house the other day - was a little unnerving.
posted by kokogiak at 8:45 PM on August 3, 2004

I could'nt beare to live anywhere without them. A friend from Northern Ca, where I was considering moving, informed me that alas, the west coast has no fireflies. I'm seriously putting this into consideration.
posted by moonbird at 9:12 PM on August 3, 2004

josephtate is right--there are no fireflies in the Northwest nor 17 year cicadas nor cicadas of any sort. But we lack in mosquitoes and chiggers, too, on the other hand... And who could miss chiggers ? But fireflies, that's another story.

Thanks for the post. This brought back memories of summers in Kansas, of walking down a dirt path along Iron Creek, on a hot night in Salina, and passing through clouds of fireflies hovering over the hollows and dips in the trail.
posted by y2karl at 9:27 PM on August 3, 2004

There's lots of them where I was in southern Maine visiting.. but none here in New Brunswick. Weird.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:35 PM on August 3, 2004

My left coast-born wife hain't ne'er seed a one, except in Pirates of the Caribbean at DW. For me, in Indiana, it was the best thing about summer. It makes me unhappy, in a kind of pit-of-my-stomach way, to hear they may be shifting habitats or dying out. Is this a retreat-of-the-glaciers thing?
posted by mwhybark at 9:55 PM on August 3, 2004

Probably something to do with all the cars, high ambient light at night, or lack of grass in Houston. My love for this place is not high.

Fireflys would make a much more plesant environmental bellwether than frogs.
posted by rudyfink at 10:46 PM on August 3, 2004

The northwest doesn't have mosquitos? I wish I'd known that growing up in Vancouver, Washington. Maybe they wouldn't have bitten me so often when we went camping.

I've seen fireflies once, on a summer cross country drive from Seattle to D.C. Plenty of them in some campground in Michigan.

It was mesmerizing for a while, and then I got annoyed by constantly having little lights go off in my peripheral vision. It was like a perpetual eye exam.
posted by obfusciatrist at 11:08 PM on August 3, 2004

I blame the kids with jars for the disappearance of fireflies. Damn kids.
posted by srboisvert at 11:12 PM on August 3, 2004

Fireflies have also been key players in the research of chemists, geneticists, and space scientists. Chemists synthesize the lightproducing chemicals to make glowsticks.

Sooooo...fireflies were indirectly responsible for rave culture!!
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2004

Mofro's new album Lochloosa includes a song on this subject. Check out the sample of track 5.
posted by Xkot at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2004

I've never seen a firefly, grew up in the UK and live in San Francisco... boh :(
posted by zeoslap at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2004

I grew up without the presence of these bugs, although I encountered them once on a visit to an east coast relative. I find them eerie. Certainly they don't inspire nostalgia.
posted by majick at 6:40 AM on August 4, 2004

lots of fireflies in michigan ... just as many as ever
posted by pyramid termite at 7:03 AM on August 4, 2004

troutfishing: when I was five and we moved to the woods and I heard bullfrogs I thought it was gorillas.
posted by kozad at 7:05 AM on August 4, 2004

The PNW does have skeeters, just not nearly as many (nor as bothersome, to me at least) as on the other side of the Rockies.
posted by mwhybark at 7:20 AM on August 4, 2004

amberglow - I live on the other side of that block (47th) street, but not seen the fireflies. I'll have to wander by tonight.
posted by papercake at 7:55 AM on August 4, 2004

When I was growing up in St. Louis, there would be huge clouds of fireflies in the backyard, coming from the field behind our house. Nowadays, when I return to the place, I'd be lucky to see one or two. Probably has something to do with the fact that the field behind our old house now consists of square mile after square mile of newly-built homes.
posted by Chanther at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2004

just get some electronic ones. (from monkeyfilter, several weeks back.)
posted by ZippityBuddha at 8:15 AM on August 4, 2004

FWIW.- The first time I saw them was a hot humid August night in Pennsylvania. It was my first spring living in Dallas. TX that I saw lighting bugs in my front yard which was a trip being in my adult years. This past spring was the coldest I've witnessed here in Dallas….now as the weather and humidity are finally rising(been very mild spring & beginning summer), I am seeing more of them in the green belt behind my home.

Anyone ever fill a jar full in a night? In the summer of '77, I tried many nights un-successfully. Had this idea you could use the jar as a lantern.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2004

Fireflies, eels...don't forget the frogs!
posted by rushmc at 8:53 AM on August 4, 2004

Excellent link. I love fireflies, too. There were many of them in the midwest, where I grew up, only a few here in Maine.

As a kid, it was easy to fill a jar, but they didn't like it, and blinked sporadically. If one got trapped in the room at night, it would go all wonky, blinking crazy distress codes, then mostly sleeping, except for the occasional disconcerting blink. Occasionally, you'd dive by a field where there were so many fireflies, you could probably read a book. One of the few things I really miss about the midwest.
posted by theora55 at 8:55 AM on August 4, 2004

I've only seen a very few fireflies, and they were in Olds, Alberta, one night. Never have seen them since. :-(
posted by five fresh fish at 9:04 AM on August 4, 2004

"when I was five and we moved to the woods and I heard bullfrogs I thought it was gorillas." - gorillas! Heh.
posted by troutfishing at 9:37 AM on August 4, 2004

I've seen lots of 'em this year in my neighborhood in Chicago. So, no shortage over here.
posted by edith at 9:29 PM CST on August 3

Ohmighod you are Edith Frost!
I think you are great!

I remember there being many many more lightning bugs in Chicago when I was little. I used to hate when the other kids would throw them on the side walk to smear them with their foot for the sure thing/momentary glow. Now when I see them blink it makes me kind of sad.
posted by thirteen at 10:12 AM on August 4, 2004

Oh god. Please... I'm scared. Seriously, somebody's gonna tear me a new asshole here... but thanks! ::shaking with fear::
posted by edith at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2004


Relax. I don't think anyone is going to comment on your music in a thread about fireflies.
posted by shoepal at 12:55 PM on August 4, 2004

I'm over it now, I hope. I'm under no delusions, hardly anyone will know about the music and even less people will give a crap, and I would've been scared to pipe up even as "login". So!!! To bring us back to the topic: ummm... fireflies. Aren't they lovely? Yes. I like them. Good post!
posted by edith at 1:36 PM on August 4, 2004

amberglow - I live on the other side of that block (47th) street, but not seen the fireflies. I'll have to wander by tonight.
Walk right by the fence of the garden slowly, and i bet you'll see em. : >

nice stuff, edith--totally
posted by amberglow at 4:17 PM on August 4, 2004

My apologies for the shoutout.

posted by thirteen at 6:53 AM on August 5, 2004

We used to have tons in suburban St. Louis when I was a kid. In fact, Monsanto used to pay kids to catch them (I think it was a nickel a piece.) I made quite a bit of pocket change doing that one Summer. Mum wasn't thrilled about opening the icebox and finding jars full of living fireflies, though.
posted by sixdifferentways at 9:27 AM on August 5, 2004

There were many of them in the midwest, where I grew up, only a few here in Maine.

I remember plenty of fireflies in maine as a kid. I never saw them in new york, but we were out of the city for most of the summer (in maine) when I was growing up - but recently I've been living up by Inwood park (hardly counts as the city though :)...) and when I walk home at night I am filled with a simple nostalgia by the blinking insects on its outskirts...

(and now I have "blame you" stuck in my head... welcome edith!)
posted by mdn at 9:53 AM on August 5, 2004

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