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Fireflies provide family memories

By Linda Breazeale

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Parents looking for affordable ways to entertain restless children during the summer months need look no farther than their own backyard.

Chasing and catching fireflies offers fun for all ages and creates special family memories that will last a lifetime.

As an area child and family development agent for Mississippi State University's Extension Service, Karen Benson of Philadelphia makes her living promoting healthy family relationships and activities. She still remembers her own special summers spent with her grandparents catching fireflies and enjoying family time on their porch.

"I grew up in California, and I have no memory of any fireflies there, but I loved chasing them with my granddaddy at Pickwick Lake," Benson said. "It's a wonderful activity that all ages can enjoy."

While parents can make the experience educational or an opportunity for outdoor exercise, Benson said the most important aspect is the fun families can have together.

"Children, especially, enjoy watching for the lights then going out to find and catch fireflies. It's like hide-and-seek with nature. They can play alone or with the whole neighborhood," she said. "Parents can extend the fun indoors by selecting books about insects. Young children in particular will enjoy Eric Carle books, such as 'The Grouchy Ladybug,' where fireflies gather in the story."

Many children like to catch and keep fireflies overnight in a bug house or jar. They should not expect to watch the light show all night since different species typically only glow during certain hours of the night. Fireflies captured in the hours near dusk only flash during that time. For the insects' health, do not keep them in captivity for more than a day.

Mike Williams, Extension entomologist, said populations of fireflies, sometimes called gloworms, will be higher in yards and rural areas that are not near bright lights or mosquito spray programs. Their lights are more noticeable in the early summer months than later in the season. While they are harmless to humans, fireflies prey on smaller insects, slugs and worms.

"Many children enjoy catching fireflies because they are soft and nonthreatening. They enjoy letting them crawl on their hands and take flight again," Williams said. "If they are observant, they may notice slight differences in light colors, flash timing and flight patterns."

Williams said some of the differences occur because Mississippi fireflies are not all from the same species.

"In South Mississippi, there is a species in which the female does not have wings (like a worm), but she still glows and attracts the flying male," he said. "There are many exotic species in other countries that are spectacular and attract tourists."

Whenever families are chasing fireflies, they should wear a mosquito repellant with DEET to reduce the risk of getting a mosquito-borne illnesses.

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Released: June 9, 2005
Contact: Karen Benson, (601) 656-4011 or Dr. Mike Williams, (662) 325-2986

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