Types of Fireflies in Tennessee

Whether you call them fireflies or lightning bugs, these glowing insects are a definite sign of summertime. Learn more about the types of fireflies you may discover in your yard with this guide from U.S. Pest Protection.

Types of Fireflies

Incredibly, there are more than 2,000 firefly species throughout the world. These glowing insects are drawn to warm and temperate climates in Asia and North America. Fireflies produce their signature light with special light organs in their abdomens. By taking in oxygen into these organs, they can produce bright light.

Due to its warm and humid environment, Tennessee is home to many firefly species, including:

  • Big dipper firefly
  • Black firefly
  • Pennsylvania firefly

Big Dipper Firefly

Photinus pyralis, also known as the big dipper firefly or common eastern firefly, is North America’s most common firefly species. Like all firefly species, big dipper fireflies have distinctive glowing abdomens, which males use to attract mates. 

Big dipper fireflies are one of the most brightly colored firefly species. You can identify them by their red heads with a single black dot and black wing covers outlined in yellow. In addition to their coloring, adult big dipper fireflies fly in a J-shaped pattern at dusk to attract mates.

Black Firefly

Unlike other firefly species, Lucidota atra, or black firefly, does not use its glowing abdomen to attract mates as an adult. Instead, it reserves its light organs for its pupal stage to function as a warning signal for predators. Adult black fireflies substitute light organs with chemical pheromones to attract mates.

Unlike big dipper fireflies, black fireflies have completely black wing covers and a reddish-orange head with a black spot. They are difficult to identify after dusk, as they do not use their light organs to communicate with potential mates.

Pennsylvania Firefly

Photuris pensylvanica, or the Pennsylvania firefly, is often mistaken for the big dipper firefly, due to its red head and yellow outlines on its wing covers. However, their wing colors range from brown to black, unlike big dipper fireflies. Despite their similar appearance to big dipper fireflies, Pennsylvania fireflies actually prey on them.

Female Pennsylvania fireflies will flash their glowing abdomens to attract male big dipper fireflies and devour them. By consuming the male big dipper fireflies, the female Pennsylvania fireflies can absorb their spider-repellent chemicals and protect themselves from jumping spiders.

Call U.S. Pest Protection for a Free Inspection

While there are many benefits to having fireflies in your yard, such as pollination and feeding on garden pests, they can be toxic to small pets if eaten. The chemicals that create their signature glowing abdomens can upset dogs’ stomachs and be fatal for cats and lizards.

If you’re concerned for your pets’ safety, U.S. Pest Protection can provide preventative solutions for fireflies in your yard. Contact our pest experts for a free inspection today.

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