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Big Dipper Firefly (Photinus pyralis)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Big Dipper Firefly



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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.



Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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 that can introduce 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. It somewhat resembles the Pennsylvania Firefly. 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.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Helpful insect icon


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Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Lampyridae
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          Genus: Photinus
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            Species: pyralis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Photinus pyralis
Other Name(s): Common Eastern Firefly, Pyralis Firefly
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 9mm to 15mm (0.35" to 0.59")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; red; yellow;
Descriptors: lightning, glow, light, green, helpful, flying

Big-Dipper-Firefly Video(s)




A Big Dipper Firefly walking in daylight.
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Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 9mm (0.4in) and 15mm (0.6in)
Lo: 9mm
Md: 12mm
Hi: 15mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
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Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Big Dipper Firefly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Big Dipper Firefly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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