Catching fireflies: It’s what summer in the South is all about

When Anthony was a kid, one of his favorite summer night pastimes was going out into the yard and catching fireflies. Or, as we called them in Roanoke, VA, “lightning bugs.”

Family travel video

Fireflies and Swimming Pools in ROANOKE VIRGINIA

How to catch a firefly

Catching fireflies is all about being fast, patient, and gentle. If you move too slowly, the firefly will zip out of your way. Yet if you get impatient, you’ll scare the fireflies, and you’ll stop being able to anticipate their movements.

Worst of all, though, is being too rough. The idea is to catch and release the firefly, not crush it into bioluminescent jelly. You want to reach out and gently yet quickly wrap your fingers around the firefly. 

Pro tip: Once you’ve closed your fingers over the firefly, slide your thumb over the hole made by your curled index finger. Then the firefly can’t get out that way.

When you’re ready, turn your hand so your fingers point toward the sky. Open your fingers just a little. The firefly might be still, or its little feet might tickle your fingers as it moves. Watch for the tail end to light up. In southwestern Virginia, this was usually a yellow-green light, small as a star but so distinct with its own light.

Anthony would usually hold each firefly for a few seconds, maybe even a minute or so. Usually, the firefly would flash its light a few times. Then Anthony would open his fingers fully and stretch out his arm, sending a little cue that he meant no harm, and the firefly could go on its way.

With a dark buzz of little narrow wings, the firefly would crawl up a finger, give a flash, and then launch. Its little yellow-green light would flash again, amidst the shadows darkness of the grass and trees, then higher, mingling with the stars while staying very much down to earth.

It’s always fun to catch lightning

Even as an adult and a dad, Anthony still loves to catch fireflies. Whenever we go to Virginia to visit his family, we take time in the evenings to go to the front of his dad’s house. That’s where the fireflies like to fly and flash. We shift about the yard and the driveway, looking for the lights, dashing toward them, and giggling as some slip through our fingers and others wind up right in our hands.

About the author
Learners and Makers
We are the St. Clair Family: Anthony, Jodie, Connor, and Aster. As Learners and Makers, our family of four slows down, connects, and enjoys the world and each other's company. We have been traveling full time since 2022.

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