Book Review: The Fireflies Book by Brett Ortler

by DerdriuMarriner

The Fireflies Book by Brett Ortler describes the life cycles and natural histories of the beloved lightning bug, as summertime’s most high-flying lantern and most welcome guest.

Fireflies emit blinking, flashing, glowing, intermittent, steady lights

The Fireflies Book: Fun Facts About the Fireflies You Loved as a Kid by Brett Ortler acknowledges the positive reactions which Earthlings reveal toward the world’s most beloved, enlightening, graceful insect of night-time grasses and skies.

Lightning bugs indeed bring a 2,000 species-strong presence to:
• temperate zones northward from the Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle, 23.5° north to 66° north latitudes, and southward from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Antarctic Circle, 23.5° south to 66.5° south latitudes; and
• tropical zones northward from 23.5° south latitude and southward from 23.5° north latitude.

They also can be found described as:
• big dippers, blinkies;
• firefly beetles;
• glow flies, glow worms, golden sparklers;
• lightning beetles; and
• moon bugs.




A favorite childhood memory is lighting up a mason jar with fireflies: adults may also enjoy the private light show.

capturing light in a jar
capturing light in a jar

Fireflies give high-energy, no-heat lighting to read by


Scientists describe big dippers as Lampyridae (“shining”) family members within the Coleoptera (“sheathed wing”) beetle order of the animal kingdom’s insect class. A frontal, upper pair of hardened, leather-like, thickened wings indeed enables a blinkie to effectuate aerial balance while a lower, rear pair of foldable, membraneous, vein-crossed wings manage actual flight launches, patterns, and returns. Some fireflies nevertheless find themselves classified as glow flies despite inabilities to:

  • effectuate flight, as in the case of the southeastern United States of America’s blue ghosts (Phausis reticulata), whose females lack wings; or
  • produce light, as in the examples of Eurasia’s and North America’s Ototetrinae subfamily members that communicate by pheromones (excreted or secreted chemicals) instead of bioluminescence (light emissions). 


three-dimensional representation of luciferin

color coding: yellow=sulfur; blue=nitrogen; black=carbon; red=oxygen; white=hydrogen.
firefly luciferin
firefly luciferin

Fireflies have unassuming bodies whose lighting is species-specific


Bioluminescence-practicing golden sparklers give off lower abdomen-produced light. They have light-producing cells for making luciferin and taking in oxygen. The final product intends to be:

  • color- and pattern-specific, continuous or intermittent by species;
  • communication-oriented for grounded females and high-flying males intent upon mating;
  • defense-oriented as warnings of unpleasant smells, tastes, and textures for natural enemies and potential predators;
  • 99+% light-emitting in cold, low-heat, non-infrared, non-ultraviolet frequencies of blue, green, pink or yellow wavelengths of 510 to 670 nanometers;
  • non-visible in day-active species foraging or mating beyond shadowy shelters; and
  • present throughout complete metamorphosis life cycles and natural histories, from a lightning beetle’s 500 eggs, through simple-eyed larvae hatching four weeks later and pupating, to compound-eyed, mating-minded adults. 


Fireflies illuminate the skies as well as floral landscapes.

lupines and fireflies, Milo, Maine
lupines and fireflies, Milo, Maine

Fireflies inspire six month-long sporadic, synchonous lightning shows


Moon bugs join other insects in claiming hungry larval and starving adult stages. Scientists know of lightning beetle life expectancies as involving:

  • egg stages 500 in number, laid as singles or in groups, for three or four weeks;
  • larval stages of summer-long feeding thanks to sickle-shaped mandibles (jaws) for injecting paralyzing chemicals into such prey as slugs, snails, and worms;
  • little-known metamorphosing stages as pupae retiring for one to two or three weeks; and
  • mature stages as adults feeding on nectar, nothing, or pollen.

So The Fireflies Book: Fun Facts About the Fireflies You Loved as a Kid moves readers through culturally enriching, educationally entertaining, light-filled summertime journeys with:

  • Adventure Publications, Inc., publisher; and
  • Brett Ortler, writer.  


The Fireflies Book: Fun Facts About the Fireflies You Loved as a Kid by Brett Ortler ~ available via Amazon

Watching fireflies is a summertime tradition. Bring back those childhood memories as you learn more about these delightful insects.



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Photinus pyralis: known commonly as big dipper firefly or common eastern firefly; most common North American species of firefly

Posey County, southwestern Indiana
Posey County, southwestern Indiana

Sources Consulted


Marriner, Derdriu. 21 May 2015. “Big Dipper Firefly: Yellow Green Twilight Flashes of Photinus pyralis.” Earth and Space News.

  • Available @

Ortler, Brett. 2014. The Fireflies Book: Fun Facts About the Fireflies You Loved as a Kid. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, Inc. 


My Maine coon kittycat Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine loves to lean against an Eastern White Pine while fireflies dance around her.

cat and fireflies: While calling fireflies / Crossing his profile / A firefly (Kobayashi Issa)
cat and fireflies: While calling fireflies / Crossing his profile / A firefly (Kobayashi Issa)
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Unisex Navy Blue T-shirt "Advice from a Firefly" by Earth Sun Moon ~ Available now via Amazon ~ Available as Hat, Sweatshirt, and T-shirt!

Be full of bright ideas ~ Pulse with excitement ~ Have a healthy glow ~ Delight in summer evenings ~ Keep a childlike sense of wonder ~ Set a shining example ~ Lighten up!
firefly products

Lightning bugs and wild alfalfa blanket the prairie: archival quality photographic print ~ available via AllPosters

image by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson
Lightning bugs and wild alfalfa blanket the prairie

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 02/15/2019, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 07/23/2015

CruiseReady, Lightning bugs evidently declined disastrously in the twentieth century. But researchers insist that populations are coming back. Every end of April through end of October I monitor them as a volunteer wildlife mapper so I enjoy the displays of the landed twinkling stars against the backdrop of the celestial.

Cultivated plants, light pollution, residential/suburban developments, and turf grass do not always cooperate with firefly life cycles. For example, fireflies really seem to like the black walnut, box elder, cherry, Chinese chestnut, honey locust, mimosa, mulberry, poplar, red cedar, silver maple, sycamore, and white pine -- as well as the bramble-berries, honeysuckle, Queen Anne's lace, red/white/yellow sweet clover, and wineberries -- which grow beautifully in the meadow's non-turf grasses and wild strawberry ground cover.

The lightning bugs in your area also may be flashing when you're not around. They tend to communicate from about an hour before sunset to about 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. But they will surprise me sometimes by not having a "start time" until after midnight or around 2:00 a.m.

If you look back at the Sources Consulted section, I've added an entry for my article on big dipper fireflies for DailyTwoCents.

Just because they may not be in your area does not mean that they will not be there in the future. I've heard many wonderful stories of fireflies coming back where lightning bug populations appear to have been absent for decades.

CruiseReady on 07/20/2015

I think lots of us have fond childhood memories of trying - sometimes successfully, sometimes not - to catch fireflies in a jar. We also called them lightening bugs. I do hope they're going to be around for a long time to inspire many more generations of children. But, I haven't seen a lot of them in recent years. That's sad. Maybe I just haven't been on the lookout for them.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/16/2015

Mira, Fireflies are a lifelong love for me. It's a joy to channel that love in such a useful way as the Firefly Watch.
Lightning bugs make such a fetching compliment when they blink on the ground as females and in the air as males while the stars twinkle in the night sky.
Yes, development and particularly light pollution are wreaking havoc on wildlife in general and lightning bugs in particular. And of course it doesn't help when even nature-lovers walk over fireflies resting hidden in the grass.
As Albert Camus observed, we are all murderers when it comes to the insects we trample.

Mira on 06/11/2015

Amazing what you say about synchronicity.
So you're part of this firefly watch project. Sounds good. It's sad though that they're disappearing. I read in one article that that's due to development (and human traffic) and light pollution.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/11/2015

Mira, Yes, I see fireflies. In fact, when I can't sleep -- and that's been happening with unseasonably warm evenings along with unseasonably hot days -- I count fireflies, not sheep!
There's a volunteer naturalist project through Tufts University (in Massachusetts) -- -- which tracks firefly occurrences (in terms of genus/species, habitat, and numbers) since lightning bugs appeared to go almost entirely missing during the last half of the twentieth century.
So I've been wildlife mapping "blinkies" every end of April to end of October -- any time between twilight and 4:00 a.m. -- since 2008.
Fireflies can engage in synchronicity, whereby they exhibit "Lights up!" and "Lights out!" behavior at the same time to produce what looks like blinking Christmas lights. The phenomenon is particularly common in southeast Asia -- especially Myanmar and Thailand -- even though it has been observed in the U.S.A.'s Great Smokies.
It's sad if lightning bugs are not in Romania because the nature-related photos in your articles certainly indicate firefly-friendly habitat possibilities.

Mira on 06/11/2015

Do you see fireflies where you live? I can't remember last time I saw fireflies. I love the word "blinkies" :)

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