My son chasing fireflies, Summer 2015
“How to Chase and Catch Fireflies”
People often tell me that I am chasing fireflies. Little did I knew they were referring to a very common activity that kids do in summer evenings in the Midwest and on the East Coast. They go out at night and chase fireflies and catch them in their hands or in a jar, to look at them and observe them.
While chasing and catching fireflies might be a common childhood activity in this part of the world, it is not an activity I grew up with in the Czech Republic. We have so few fireflies that many people have never seen them and only know about them through cartoons and books.
In other cultures, such as some parts of Asia or Central and South America, chasing and catching fireflies is quite common. In some regions, before we had flashlights, fireflies were so abundant that people could collect fireflies in a jar and use it to illuminate their way at night.
When you catch fireflies, please respect them as living beings. Look at them, observe them and let them go the same night. Teach kids not to kill them. After all they may be fairies or guardian angels.
Tips on chasing fireflies:
- Start early: Many firefly species glow before it's completely dark, and you can see them even when they are not glowing. This dramatically increases your chances to catch them. These fireflies do not glow late into the night, only to about an hour after sunset.
- Be quiet, unobtrusive: Fireflies, like other insects, will react to sudden movements and sound.
- Don't use a flashlight: You may think a flashlight will help you see them and catch them, but the opposite is true. A flashlight will blind them and you. They will not want to glow and you will see less in the dark, because your retinas will close down. You may use red or blue light which doesn't affect the fireflies or your retinas as much. I have had the most success relying on my sight, especially after my eyes adjust to the dark.
- Catch them in your hands: While you could catch them in a net, use your hands instead, it's more fun! Nets could damage them as you try to take them out. Approach them slowly, and they will continue their graceful path of flight. That is when you can easily and carefully grab them with your hand.
- Do not poke holes in the jar's lid! Fireflies need oxygen to live and to produce its glow. When you poke holes in the jar's lid, fireflies will try to escape, their head might get stuck in the holes of the lid and die. It's better to use a thin cloth or a very fine mesh with a rubber band around it to cover the top of the jar.
- Add slice of an apple and soaked piece of paper towel. Some fireflies might eat the offered apple, and soaked paper towel will keep them from dehydrating.
- Keep the jar away from light: Fireflies do not like competing light, so place the jar in a warm, moist, dark place. They will glow brighter if there are other fireflies glowing around near the jar.
- Do not crush them to make glow paint! Respect these living creatures.
- Release the fireflies the same night you catch them: The best glow will be shortly after you catch them.
- Go out and have some fun: Teach children how to chase and catch fireflies! Let me know your tips and interesting stories!