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Leave the Leaves for the Fireflies

In the hot summer months, do you love sitting outside watching the fireflies (or lightning bugs) flash in the landscape? If you do, then there is something important you need to know related to fall gardening. If you are a neat and tidy gardener and like to get all those messy leaves off your garden, think again. Once you’ve bagged up all those leaves neatly and put them by the side of the road, you’ve probably removed all the juvenile fireflies from your yard too! So next year, no fireflies to watch.

The Common Eastern Firefly (Photinus pyralis).

The Common Eastern Firefly (Photinus pyralis).
Photo credit: Patrick Coin

Fireflies, who are beetles, live the bulk of their lives (95%) as larva in leaf litter, under rotting logs, and in moist areas where they can thrive. The larvae are eating machines, devouring many soft-bodied insects, typically the gardener’s foes: slugs and snails. For this reason alone, they are worth protecting and encouraging in our gardens. The beauty they bring as adults is a wonderful bonus.

Fireflies, who are beetles, live the bulk of their lives (95%) as larva in leaf litter, under rotting logs, and in moist areas where they can thrive.

Fireflies, who are beetles, live the bulk of their lives (95%) as larva in leaf litter, under rotting logs, and in moist areas where they can thrive.
Photo Credit: Mohammed El Damir, Bugwood.org

More information, see Conserving the Jewels of the Night and Leave the Leaves.

How to provide excellent firefly habitat:

  1. Leave the leaves – rake leaves into discrete sections of your garden to decompose. You’ll have a habitat for fireflies and other beneficial insects and then organic compost.
  2. Avoid using chemicals in the landscape as much as possible.
  3. Provide some areas with tall grasses; fireflies like to perch as they look for mates.
  4. Provide water features or moist areas.
  5. Limit the use of outside lights.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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