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Pennsylvania Firefly (Photuris pennsylvanica)

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

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Summer evenings are made brighter by the Pennsylvania Firefly, but that doesn't mean better for every male firefly in the area.

Updated: 01/05/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
On dry summer nights, the Pennsylvania Firefly emits a yellow-green glimmer of light every few seconds. The light comes from an enzyme called luciferase and produces virtually no heat. The ability for a living organism to produce light is called bioluminescence. This flashing light signal is meant to attract members of the opposite sex. If a pair successfully finds each other, they mate and a population continues to exist in that area. Sometimes, and deliberately, the female's signal attracts members of a different genus. Careless males from the genus Photinus find this a costly mistake. If males respond and approach females from the Photuris genus, they are killed and eaten by the female. Consuming the males allows the females to absorb a steroid naturally found in the Photinus males. Females that had high levels of this steroid, lucibufagin, in their own system became less appetizing to jumping spiders that attacked them. One small taste of lucibufagin was enough to deter the jumping spider from continuing to attack or eat the female. Longer life means more opportunities to reproduce, so the mimicry pays off for the whole Pennsylvania Firefly species.

Pennsylvania Fireflies look similar to Big Dipper Firefly. An easy way to differentiate them is by examining the elytra (the black wing coverings). Pennsylvania Fireflies have a thin stripe of orange or yellow that stretches from the 'shoulder' down to the bottom of the elytra. The dome-shaped thorax (shoulder plate) is yellow around the edges and has a black mark in the center with two red spots on either side of it.

This species of firefly eats other insects in addition to the males of Photinus. Smaller bugs, snails and worms also comprise its diet. This particular species has been named the state insect of Pennsylvania.©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: pennsylvanica

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Photuris pennsylvanica
Category: Beetle
Size (Adult; Length): 8mm to 10mm (0.31" to 0.39")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; red; yellow; ivory; orange
Descriptors: bug; light; bright; night; flashing; glimmer; flying; harmless; dusk; neon

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 8mm (0.3in) and 10mm (0.4in)
Lo: 8mm
Md: 9mm
Hi: 10mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania Firefly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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