A New (to Us) Firefly

June 21, 2022

Introduction by Anne Horne, Public Engagement Manager

We found a new firefly species at Rowe Woods (at least new to all of us). It all happened when we changed our route during our firefly hike training due to a staffer's sprained ankle. The new path took us to the Herb Wall, which we don't go to much at night. And there we found a delightful little firefly that was glowing almost pink!  

For me this is such a wonderful example on how programs, staff, volunteers, and community science projects come together for great things! Below is Linda's and Sheila's account of the whole story. 

A photo of a firefly
Individual caught June 1, showing relative size.

by Linda Romine and Sheila Riley, Cincinnati Nature Center Community Science Volunteers

On the evening of June 1, Cincinnati Nature Center staff conducted Firefly Walk Leader training near the Herb Wall (our terraced garden opening in a woodland) and discovered small Photinus fireflies displaying near sunset. The fireflies seemed to flash near a plant in the pea family (Thermopsis).

Two nights later Sheila and I went back, arriving about 8:40 pm. Upon our arrival, a hiker said she saw a firefly in the forest immediately adjacent west of the Herb Wall.  We saw our first firefly flash in the forest at about 8:45 pm, very small and very low to the ground. 

Within 10 minutes, many small fireflies were displaying low to the ground and just above vegetation in woodland, under bushes, and especially in the open garden. Most stayed within 6 to 12 inches above the ground. The flash was very quick and snappy, with a deep yellow/orange and pinkish color. The flash was repeated about every 3 to 3+ seconds at 66ºF. We estimate at least 25 individuals were flashing at peak, just after 9 pm (approximate sunset).

When caught, the lanterns were initially very rosy.  By 9-9:10 pm or so, a few Big Dipper fireflies (Photinus pyralis) began flashing in the garden.  We did not stay to see how long the small fireflies flashed into the evening but there were fewer by 9:20 pm. Instead, we went on a successful Candle Firefly (Pyractamena angulata) hunt.

An image of a firefly
Small Photinus sp. found in terraced garden at Cincinnati Nature Center Rowe Woods, Clermont Co. OH. I was hoping the little fellow on the ground might lead me to a flightless female. But alas, his crooked wing might be why he was grounded. - Linda Romine

On June 7, the Firefly Watch group observed the Photinus sp. fireflies at the Herb Wall from about 8:45 to just after 9 pm. A second firefly was collected at about 8:50 pm flashing low to the ground in forest habitat near the Herb Wall. Upon examination, it was nearly identical to the one captured on June 3. And, the number of fireflies displaying in the garden was similar to the June 3 sighting. However, the flash rate was faster, having just over a two-second interval at 70ºF.

On June 8, volunteer Laura Hughes confirmed this firefly to be Photinus scintillans, also known as Pale Firefly, Yellow-bellied Firefly, and Pine Barrens Firefly. Laura has also referred to this species as the Low Pink Winkers, which seems to fit perfectly! 

The Firefly Watch group returned to the Herb Wall on June 14 and determined that the population extends in the forest to the west of the Herb Wall and downhill from the trail across the bridge and uphill in small numbers to the next trail intersection. This is significant since this species has brachypterous females (they have shortened wings and cannot fly), thus are very vulnerable to disturbance. So far, we have been unable to find a female, but the search continues!