I had so many positive responses to last week’s issue on fireflies that I decided to dig a little deeper into our local species and whether or not I’d be able to see the phenomenon without taking a trip east (however if we weren’t in the midst of a pandemic, I’d welcome a summer road trip). 

Any Google search for the terms “fireflies” and “Montana” will result in several articles whose writers espoused the same astonishment I had when I realized that fireflies (flashing ones!) can be observed here in Montana. You just have to work a little harder for the payoff.

As mentioned last week, fireflies aren’t as abundant here as they are in warmer, eastern habitats; but that doesn’t mean they’re nonexistent. Most firefly species need specific conditions to elicit that telltale glow, including humid, warm environments. So while we do have firefly species here, we don’t notice them as often because, well, they’re not presenting as obviously as they would in a warmer climate. But the phenomenon is not unheard of.

One source claims that out west, only the female fireflies glow (whereas east of the Rockies, the males glow) and they do so close to the ground. Regardless, sightings are difficult for other reasons.

Since our summer days are so long, fireflies may go unnoticed in the evenings when we have light until 10:00pm. Even in the summer, temperatures can drop to ranges that don’t allow fireflies to “warm up” enough to get their flashes going. So conditions have to be just right.

According to a post by the Flathead Land Trust, “…John Weaver sees fireflies flash every summer on his property in the Mission Valley near the National Bison Range. This rare firefly habitat was protected in 2016 when John placed his 159 acre farm in a conservation easement with Flathead Land Trust.”

“…many of the documented firefly sightings in the state have been around hot springs or springs where the water temperature is fairly constant. Most species of firefly spend the winter in larval form in the soil or in rotting logs. Perhaps that is why the fireflies live on the John Weaver conservation easement property. John’s property has two spring creeks and a few years ago he placed portions of dead cottonwood trees over the creek to create natural habitat for wildlife. Shortly after he placed the logs, he noticed the fireflies.”

Fireflies at Nibley Park in Utah, photo by BJ Nicholls

I was truly excited to read more about these beetles, and learn that this is something I can see for myself in my home state. While the mating season is over and the fireflies are winding down for the summer, you can bet that next year the hunt is on.

If you want to join in, be sure to check out the Western Firefly Project, which began as the Utah Firefly Citizen Science Project in 2014; they have since expanded to include all western states. They hope to document firefly sightings west of the Rockies in order to bring awareness to the fact that fireflies are here, hopefully to stay.