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Go glow: Firefly Festival sheds light on summer's brightest bugs

Fireflies glow.
Tsuneaki Hiramatsu

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 10, 2013: This time last year, the fireflies were out in full force. But after a cool spring, they’re a week or two behind, says Tad Yankoski, an entomologist at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House.

“We’re just getting into the prime time for fireflies,” he says.

And during the next two weeks, you can learn about these bright bugs while enjoying a range of activities at the Butterfly House with the weekly Firefly Festival. The festival takes place from 8-9:30 p.m. Wed., June 12, and Wednesday, June 19.

Thanks to the long winter and cool spring, the next few weeks will be perfect for seeing fireflies, Yankoski says, and also to learn about them at the Firefly Festival.

For instance, they’re not, in fact, flies, he says, but a kind of beetle. And while in some species only the males glow, in this area, the males glow from above while flying in search of their mates, and the females glow from the grass, where they wait.

At the festival, visitors can walk through the area where the butterflies live, which is all lit up for the event with rope lights and hundreds of tiny, lit ornaments that look like fireflies.

There are also firefly games and crafts, Yankoski says, you can paint your nails with glow in the dark paint, and kids can decorate firefly cookies.

And bring flashlights, he recommends. During the festival, guides will take groups out into the park nearby to see the fireflies glow.

No catching, though.

“We’re just looking at them so everyone has the chance to see them,” Yankoski says.

And you might see other night life, too, he says. On last week’s journey, visitors saw many nocturnal insects and birds.

In addition to the festival’s events, there are also lectures, aimed at both kids and adults, which offer the chance to get to know more about the firefly in-depth, including information on ways researchers are examining how the fireflies’ light may fight cancer and discover new life in outer space.

And while the fireflies, like the spring itself, have arrived a bit later this year, that doesn’t mean they’ll linger longer.

The life of the firefly, like the festival, is a brief one. While they live for about a year as larvae, Yankoski says, only two or three weeks of that life is in the form of the firefly. 

For more information on the Firefly Festival, visit the Butterfly House’s website.

Tickets to the festival cost $10, $8 for members. Last week’s event was sold out.

Kristen Hare

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