Lighting Bugs Vs Fireflies (Explained)

One of the most common sites seen in the United States during summer nights is the flash of lightning bugs or fireflies. When comparing lightning bugs vs fireflies, despite the difference in name, these insects are actually the same. In this article we discuss this interesting insect in a bit more detail.

Lighting Bugs Vs Fireflies

Key Takeaways

  • Lighting bugs and fireflies are the same bugs.
  • These insects are actually beetles, not flies.
  • The common name varies based on region, but many people use the names interchangeably.
  • These bugs are found on every continent, except for Antarctica.

Are Lightning Bugs and Fireflies The Same?

Despite the different names of lighting bugs and fireflies, these are the same insect. The common name they are called depends on the region they are found in. These glowing insects are a well-known site during summer nights, and many people in the United States use both names interchangeably.

Two Different Names

Lampyridae is the scientific name for these flying and glowing insects, but they are usually referred to as either fireflies or lightning bugs. These common names come from the way these bugs glow at night.

They are most active during the spring and summer, and in many areas of the United States, these insects are a regular summer site. Studies have found that around 40% of people in the United States use the names firefly and lightning bug interchangeably. In addition, 30% of people just use lighting bugs with the other 30% only using fireflies.


firefly by Francisco Corado from Pixabay

Studies have shown that around 30% of Americans use fireflies instead of lightning bugs. This name seems to be more common in western regions and New England. In the West where fireflies are common wildfires are also a frequent site, which is thought to influence the nickname for these bugs.

Lightning Bug

lightning bugs
lightning bugs Heather Griesbach from Pixabay

Around 30% of Americans call these glowing summer bugs lighting bugs. This nickname has been found to be mainly used in the South and Midwest regions of the country. It is thought this name comes from the fact that these areas also see frequent lighting in the spring and summer seasons.

Where They Come From

There is not an exact origin known about where the nicknames firefly and lightning bug come from, only theories about how they were influenced by the regions these flying insects live in. It is thought their flashing color resembles the lightning strikes of the South and the wildfires of the West. Some parts of the country have even come up with other names for these bugs. These include lamp bug, glow-worm, candle fly, and will-o’-the-wisp. However, lightning bugs and fireflies have become the most popular.

What These Bugs Are

Despite the name firefly, these bugs are actually beetles, not flies. There are an estimated 146 species of fireflies in North America, all of which are beetles and in the Lampyridae family. Around the globe, there are about two thousand species of these insects. While most of the firefly species found in the country can fly, some are wingless. However, all species of these bugs can glow.

Facts About Fireflies/Lightning Bugs

There are several interesting facts to learn about lightning bugs and fireflies found in the United States, from the reason they glow and flash to the habitats they prefer to live in.

Their Diet

spiny oak slug
Spiny Oak-Slug Caterpillar | image by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

These flying bugs have diets that change as they grow. Larvae are known to feed on slugs, snails, and worms. Adults will eat nectar, pollen, and sometimes other fireflies.

Certain species of these insects do not eat at all as adults. As larvae, they can stun their prey by injecting them with a chemical known for stunning.

Glowing and Flashing

Fireflies Forest
Fireflies Forest Tibor Lezsófi from Pixabay

Every type of lighting bug can produce light as larvae, which is a mechanism to deter predators. However, some lose this when they develop into adult insects.

These bugs are able to glow because of the bioluminescent organs found on their undersides. Lightning bugs are toxic when eaten by other animals, and it is thought the glowing and flashing works to show predators that.

Thousands of Species

Even though there are thought to be less than two hundred species of fireflies in the United States, there are about two thousand found around the entire world. Different species will have different ways of flashing, and they can even be identified in this way.

Their Habitat and Range

Fireflies can be found throughout most of North America, and species can be found on every other continent in the world, not including Antarctica.

These insects prefer tropical climates, and can also be found in woodlands, backyards, gardens, meadows, and parks. For the most part, fireflies are active during summer nights.

Efficient Energy Use

One of the most interesting facts about lightning bugs, also called fireflies, is that they have extremely efficient energy use. These insects use a Bioluminescence chemical to glow that is almost 100% efficient.

This means hardly any of the energy created goes to waste. Common incandescent lights are only 10% efficient. Fireflies are so energy efficient because of how little heat they produce.


Fireflies and lightning bugs, which are the same bug despite various common names, can be seen across North America during summer nights. They are a frequent sight during the warm season, and pose no harm to people despite being toxic when eaten by other animals.