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Think Fireflies Can’t Be Found In Colorado? Think Again

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Ashley Harrigan
/
Flickr - Creative Commons
Fireflies aren't common in Colorado but they can be found.

Whether you call them fireflies or lightning bugs, they are just not very common in the west - but not impossible to find. In fact, thanks to a wetter summer, we may be seeing more of them right now.

“Probably a lot of people have never seen fireflies if they grew up in Colorado,” said Whitney Cranshaw, a Colorado State University entomologist. “Fireflies are always here. The issue is we don’t have a lot of fireflies.”

In Colorado, they can be found in small pockets near permanent water sources. During the larval stage they feed on things that thrive in wet areas – including slugs, snails, and earthworms.

“They’re uncommon but they’re always a treat to see, that’s for sure,” Cranshaw said. “It’s one of the more magic kind of insect events that you can see.”

Of course, Cranshaw said, it’s not really magic.

“The reason fireflies produce light is as a mating signal,” he said. “So it’s a specific kind of flash pattern – the male will produce one kind and the female will produce another. And it’s done with an amazing, complex chemical reaction that they produce in their body, mixing a couple compounds, adding a little bit of oxygen, a little ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and bingo, you get a flash.”

If you’re looking to find them in Fort Collins, Cranshaw points to Reservoir Ridge Natural Area. In Loveland, Mariana Butte Golf Course is a good spot.

Greeley parks technician Chris Scully said McClosky Open Space is a good place to spy fireflies. Particularly now.

“A few times, when I’ve been out after dark on some of the trails in the past, I would think I’d seen a flash, but then there’s nothing consistent, like these are now,” Scully said.

When populations are higher, like now, Scully hosts special night walks, so firefly fans can get a chance to glimpse them, as well.

Fourth of July is often prime viewing time for the luminescent bugs, Cranshaw said.

“This is about the best time to see one, if you’re going to see one in Colorado,” he said.

As for tips to catching fireflies, Cranshaw really only has one: Don’t.

“Leave them alone in Colorado,” he said. “If you want to catch enough to light up a house, go to Nebraska.”

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