Lightning bugs light up around Birmingham: 5 things to know.

Birmingham, lightning bugs, fireflies
How many lightning bugs can you catch and release this summer?

Are you in the mood for an amazing light show? Then venture to your own backyard because synchronous lightning bugs are showing up around Birmingham for their annual production. 

Whether you dub them fireflies or lightning bugs, there’s a good chance you spent many summer evenings as a kid chasing and capturing these magical creatures. But do you really know anything about them? Lucky for you, I’ve done some research and found out some pretty cool things about these charming little bugs. Here’s what I learned.

1. Synchronous lightning bugs are rare.

Birmingham, lightning bug, fireflies
Lightning bug in Birmingham, AL. Photo via Bham Now

There are many species of lightning bugs across the globe, but one that stands out for its rarity as well as its coolness is the synchronous lightning bug (Photinus carolinus).

While each species of lightning bug has its own unique flash pattern that helps males and females recognize each other for mating purposes, synchronous lightning bugs are the only species in America that can synchronize their flashing light pattern. Instead of the typical flash sparking randomly throughout your yard, this special species gives off five to eight flashes every few seconds in unison.

Not only do they put on a spectacular light show, but they are only found in a small number of locations. And guess what—Alabama is one of them! Just another reason why Birmingham is on the awesome list.

Other places synchronous lightning bugs can be found include:

  • Great Smoky Mountains
  • Allegheny National Forest
  • Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area
  • Congaree National Park
  • Southeast Asia

2. Their light show is quite short.

Birmingham, fireflies, lightning bugs
Like a fairy tale.

While your backyard may be filled with lightning bugs on any given summer evening, synchronous lightning bugs can only be found within a one to two-week span, typically around the third week of May to the third week of June. 

3. It’s all about bioluminescence.

Birmingham, lightning bug, firefly, synchronous fireflies, synchronous lightning bugs
What a light show! Photo via toan phan via Unsplash

So how exactly do they light up? The answer is through bioluminescence—the production of light by living organisms. 

According to Randy Haddock of the Cahaba River Society, “Lightning bugs make two proteins for their light. Luciferin is a photoprotein that accepts a charged ion while luciferase, an enzyme, facilitates the reaction.”

While most species of lightning bugs produce a greenish-yellow light, including synchronous lightning bugs, one species actually produces a blueish light.

4. Lightning bugs love humidity.

Birmingham, lightning bug, firefly, synchronous fireflies, synchronous lightning bugs
Lighting up the evening sky. Photo by Askin Cakiner via UnSplash

Living in Alabama, we expect summers to be hot and humid. And while many of us dislike it (it really does ruin a good hair day!), lightning bugs thrive in it. Their activity peaks when temperatures rise, so on warm humid evenings you’ll notice lightning bugs flashing their bulbs more often.

5. Lightning bugs are disappearing. Gasp!

Birmingham, lightning bugs, fireflies
Bulb in action.

Unfortunately, these magical creatures are decreasing all over the world. According to firefly.org, it is likely due to human development, increased light pollution and toxic chemicals. 

Luckily, there are some things you can do to help lightning bugs in your area, such as:

  • Turn off outside lights/lower shades at night to help boost lightning bug mating.
  • Let logs and litter accumulate to give lightning bug larvae a place to live and grow. 
  • Create water features in your yard. Most lightning bug species thrive around standing water and in marshy areas (ponds, streams, rivers, etc.). Consider building a pond or diverting a small stream to run through your property. Chlorinated pools don’t count, sorry!
  • Avoid the use of pesticides, especially lawn chemicals, which may be poisonous to lightning bugs and larvae. 

Have you been lucky enough to witness synchronous lightning bugs in action? Let us know your experience on social @bhamnow.