5 Effective Ways to Catch Fireflies (Lightning Bugs) and Keep Them Safe

fireflies in a glass jar on a dark background
© Fer Gregory/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kirstin Harrington

Published: August 11, 2023

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Have you ever wanted to catch fireflies? Chasing fireflies is a traditional summertime activity. It can be enticing to keep a firefly since they are so lovely. You can quickly become a proficient firefly collector if you are compassionate, understanding, and diligent. 

Whether you’re trying to live out a storybook fantasy or you’re teaching your kids the joys of nature, here are our favorite ways to catch lightning bugs! 

How Can I Find Fireflies?

Night firefly light

Most fireflies that glow live in the Midwest.

©anko70/Shutterstock.com

With respect to the species, you can typically see fireflies near stagnant water in wide open spaces or on the outskirts of forests. They are widespread, from the banks of rivers in Asia to the wide open spaces of Wisconsin. 

A large portion of Europe, Central America, and South America are also home to lightning bugs. They favor hot, muggy weather. The greatest place to look for these sparkling insects is in a field that’s close to the water on an early, warm, humid summer night. 

The western United States lacks fireflies, but you might be in luck if you live in the southeast, midwest, or northeast of the country! There are more than 2,000 different kinds of fireflies. All fireflies are technically beetles, and many of them don’t even glow!   

Fireflies have very specific living requirements. They are dwindling as cities expand all around the world, in part because light pollution messes with their mating process. Additionally, if their preferred field has been sealed over or turned into a development, they simply vanish without relocating.

What Makes Fireflies Glow?

Pyractomena borealis firefly

Did you know that not all fireflies light up?

©Paul Reeves Photography/Shutterstock.com

The majority of fireflies shine in order to entice mates. Each species’ males have a distinctive flashing sequence that they use to entice females. Some types of fireflies even time their flashes to one another!

Certain fireflies also employ their lights for more negative purposes. Some opportunistic fireflies imitate the color and flashing arrangement of other species before devouring their potential mates!

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), oxygen, calcium, and the enzyme luciferase combine chemically to create firefly lights. This extensive chemical blending takes place in the firefly’s light organ.

How Do I Catch Fireflies?

Now that you know where they live and how they glow, here are some ways you can humanely catch fireflies!

1. Work Together

The fireflies have come out to play. Shot of two little siblings catching fireflies in jars outside.

It’s easier to catch fireflies with two or more people.

©PeopleImages.com – Yuri A/Shutterstock.com

The greatest strategy for catching fireflies is to collaborate with one another. One person tends the jar while the other uses a net to gather the firefly. You can also use the jar as your net to make things even easier!

Since fireflies aren’t the most resilient of bugs, always take additional precautions when capturing them. 

2. Use Their Lighting Pattern

Fireflies

You can use a flashlight to lure them as long as all other outdoor lighting is dim.

©Fer Gregory/Shutterstock.com

Fireflies communicate with one another by blinking their lights. Wearing a flashlight and turning down other outdoor lights that might distract or frighten fireflies is the best method to get within range of them. Use the flashlight to communicate with them shine up and down in brief bursts to imitate their lighting sequences in order to get closer still.  

Never shine your light straight at a firefly because doing so will only frighten them away rather than attract them. If you have trouble luring fireflies, it may be advised to utilize LED lights rather than a standard flashlight.

3. Catch Them In Your Hands

Firefly flying away from a child's hand,

Catching fireflies in your hands is one of the easier methods.

©Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

Fireflies should keep a composed and graceful flying route as you pursue them gradually; this will render them quite simple to catch. When you get close enough to one of these lightning bugs, gently extend both of your hands outward in an attempt to cup it within the palms of your hands.  

You ought to have enough room between your palms to prevent crushing it.

This can require a few tries. Keep trying without getting frustrated or overwhelmed. 

4. Use a Net

Young man catching insects at dusk running along the skyline silhouetted against a cloudy blue sky brandishing his net

You can use a relatively small net to catch lightning bugs.

©Jan H Andersen/Shutterstock.com

To collect fireflies, another thing you can do is use a net. Numerous home improvement stores sell nets, or you can create your own from a small piece of netting. Simply move the net across an area where there are fireflies until you capture one. 

Make sure to move slowly and gently to avoid frightening or hurting the fireflies.

5. Use a Jar

Fireflies in a jar

A glass jar is the most common way to catch fireflies.

©Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

Lastly, you can also use a glass jar to catch fireflies. By capturing the lightning bugs in a jar, you can save time because most people end up placing their captured fireflies into them. To collect fireflies, rotate your glass jar through the air carefully and slowly.  

When a firefly flies into your jar’s opening, cover it with the lid to keep it there.

Keeping Fireflies Safe

Pennsylvania firefly

Fireflies love munching on grass.

©iStock.com/Hlib Serbskyi

Put your captured fireflies in a glass jar if you intend to preserve them so you can see their glow. Glass jars are frequently used for storing fireflies. Avoid making any holes in the jar because doing so will dry out the air which could hurt the firefly as it tries to elude you. 

Consider that fireflies prefer moist, humid environments. In the jar, add just a small piece of apple and a few blades of fresh grass. The grass will provide them with material to climb on, consume, and burrow in, and the fruit is going to maintain the moist air in the jar.

Be sure to let the firefly go free within a couple of hours. 


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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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