An app to track firefly flashings

Contribute to citizen science by tracking lightning bugs in your backyard

FLASHES OF LIGHT  Fireflies in a long-exposure photo taken in a forest near Nuremberg, Germany. A free app lets you map firefly flashes. 

Mike Lewinski/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A firefly flashing at dusk is an iconic sign of summer. Now you can enjoy these light shows and contribute to science at the same time with a firefly tracking app.

There are around 2,000 species of these luminescent beetles, which light up the twilight with yellow, greenish or amber light. Scientists at Clemson University in South Carolina are concerned that firefly populations might be in decline. To amass a database of firefly occurrence and habitats, the team designed Firefly Counter, an app that lets citizen scientists worldwide collect data on lightning bug populations.

Just download the free app, available for iPhone and Android, to your smartphone (if you don’t have one, an online version is available). 

A firefly app lets you track the fireflies in your area. You can contribute to data on firefly populations, and see how your area ranks against others in a firefly map.

Clemson Firefly/YouTube

When the sun sets, sit down outside. Make a circle with your hand and hold it in front of one eye. Then count how many fireflies flash within the circle over 60 seconds. Once you’ve counted, fill in your tally, location and type of habitat. The app will also ask you to characterize the flashes to narrow down the firefly species. After entering the data, you can check the app’s map to see results from other people in the area. 

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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