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Big Dipper Firefly (Photinus pyralis)

Detailing the identifying qualities of the Big Dipper Firefly, including physical features and territorial reach.

 Updated: 2/5/2018; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Big Dipper Firefly  
Picture of Big-Dipper-Firefly

The gentle, harmless Big Dipper Firefly brings delight to gazers of the night sky - and a genuine smile to the child in all of us.

Fireflies are famous for their nighttime displays in the summer. These friendly beetles delight children and adults alike with their bioluminescence. The yellow-green glow comes from their abdomen. Chemical reactions inside the firefly create visible light without generating any heat. Rarely is such a thing possible in nature. The intensity of the light and the frequency that it flashes is controlled by the firefly's nervous system. This particular species of firefly will flash its brightest light and then flies upward in a "j" curve as the light diminishes.

Catching fireflies is a fond childhood memory for many people. This insect should definitely be admired and can be handled delicately. It is an excellent species for introducing children to the world of insects, but always release them back into nature. They light up in order to call mates, and limiting their time in the wild diminishes reproduction opportunities. The stress of captivity usually results in death. Allow the Firefly to crawl up to the highest finger and watch them take flight. They open their elytra (wing covering) and reveal delicate wings before ascending.

The Big Dipper Firefly has a black body. Each elytron is completely bordered with a thin yellow edge. The pronotum looks like a shield covering the head. It is also yellow and has a red patch on it with a black dot in the center. The abdomen is black and yellow on the ventral (belly) side. They can be found in open fields, meadows, parks, gardens, front yards and backyards. They begin lighting up as the sun sets and eventually stop for the night. Their larvae feed on earthworms, slugs and snails, but adults are not known to eat at all.

Picture of the Big Dipper Firefly
Picture of the Big Dipper Firefly

Big Dipper Firefly Information

Category: Beetle
Common Name: Big Dipper Firefly
Scientific Name: Photinus pyralis
Other Name(s): Common Eastern Firefly, Pyralis Firefly

Taxonomy Hierarchy

 Arrow graphic Kingdom: Animalia
  Arrow graphic Phylum: Arthropoda
   Arrow graphic Class: Insecta
    Arrow graphic Order: Coleoptera
     Arrow graphic Family: Lampyridae
      Arrow graphic Genus: Photinus
       Arrow graphic Species: pyralis

Size, Identifying Tags and Territorial Reach

Size (Adult, Length): Size (Adult, Length): 9 mm to 15 mm (0.351 inches to 0.585 inches)
Identifying Colors: black; red; yellow;
Additional Descriptors: lightning, glow, light, green, helpful, flying

North American Territorial Reach (Though Not Limited To): Alabama; Arkansas; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Nebraska; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; North Carolina; Ohio; Oklahoma;Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Vermont; Virginia; West Virginia; Wisconsin

A Note About Territorial Reach: Keep in mind that an insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above. Insects are driven by environmental factors, food supplies and mating patterns and do not nescessarily work within hard-and-fast territorial lines like we humans do.

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