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Firefly (Photuris spp.)

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

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Image Credit: Leann T.S. from Lewisberry, PA
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Image Credit: Alex -icycatelf- Bowen
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Image Credit: Edwin S., taken in Huntingtown, MD
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North America has a variety of Fireflies that light up the night with their cool blink of illumination.

Updated: 06/09/2023; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The genus Photuris contains a myriad of species of Fireflies. These small beetles are completely harmless to people and are often caught for closer inspection. The abdomen is yellow and contains chemicals that allow the insect to phosphoresce. Most species illuminate in shades or green or blue, but a few species flash orange or red. The timing pattern of each species' blinking differs, which can help them differentiate between other species in the same area. One species, the Pennsylvania Firefly, mimics the timing of another genus in order to lure males so they can eat them.

After mating, eggs are laid in tree canopies, far from human eyes. Little is known about the early life stage of Fireflies because of this reason. This is a wonderful insect to introduce to children. Fireflies are gentle and stoke curiosity thanks to their bioluminescence. They are slow walkers, but difficult to catch in flight. Once caught, Fireflies walk to the highest point in order to take flight again. This often means one will leisurely walk all the way to the tip of a raised finger before launching. It would be difficult to find a friendlier insect on a warm summer night.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Harmless insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Coleoptera
        Family: Lampyridae
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          Genus: Photuris
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            Species: spp.

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Photuris spp.
Other Name(s): Lightning Bug
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 10mm to 20mm (0.39" to 0.78")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow; red
Descriptors: light; glow; bright; harmless; flying; twinkle; lightning bug; lightning bug

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 10mm (0.4in) and 20mm (0.8in)
Lo: 10mm
Md: 15mm
Hi: 20mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
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Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
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
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the 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 Firefly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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