Firefly science for kids

Summertime is one of my favorite times of the year, with the backyard fires, warm moonlit nights, and fireflies all around.   Some of my most memorable moments have been catching fireflies with my siblings.  A few nights ago, we were enjoying a warm summer night.  That’s when we saw the fireflies.  Immediately, I was flashed back to my childhood, running around the yard catching fireflies.  Except this time, Aikman was running, and I was trying to hold the firefly jar.

firefly science activities for kids | The Hands-On Homeschooler

As we walked around the yard, we collected the little flying critters, and this spurred lots of discussions about fireflies.

Here’s a few facts for you:

  • The back end of a firefly is called its lantern.
  • The chemical that makes a firefly light up is called luciferin.
  • Predators avoid eating fireflies because the luciferin tastes bad.
  • Fireflies communicate with each other using their flashing lights.
  • The luciferin chemical is used in medicine to detect blood clots, tuberculosis cells, and even in food safety testing.  Luckily for the fireflies, luciferin is synthetically produced.  This is a good thing, because firefly populations are currently on the downfall.

A firefly jar experiment:

firefly science experiment | The Hands-On Homeschooler

While we were collecting the fireflies and adding them to our glass jar, we discovered that they kept migrating toward the top of the jar, where the lid was.  I asked Aikman to problem solve what we could do about this.  After laying the jar down and propping the jar several different ways, we finally concluded that it is easier to add more fireflies to the jar if it is upside down.  This way, the fireflies crawl away from the lid, since it is at the bottom.

Nocturnal animals:

firefly science experiment | The Hands-On Homeschooler

We also talked about nocturnal animals.

As we walked around our neighborhood catching fireflies, Aikman brought up the point that fireflies are only out at night.  We had a great discussion about how fireflies are nocturnal, and that we are not nocturnal, but diurnal.  We then discussed other animals that are nocturnal and diurnal.

Later this week, I’m planning on using these nocturnal vs. diurnal Montessori sorting cards.

Is it an insect?

Aikman’s next question to me was, “Are fireflies insects?”

I knew that fireflies were insects, since they have 6 legs and 3 body sections.  However, what I didn’t realize is that fireflies are actually a subset of insects; they are beetles.  Beetles have a hard covering for their forewings, which protects the fragile flying wings.

We talked about the 3 major sections of an insect — the head, thorax, and abdomen; and identified each on the firefly.  We also talked about the lantern on the firefly, and how a special chemical reaction makes it glow.

lifecycle of a firefly

photo credit: Teach With Me

Here’s some great questions to ask and research to find the answers:

  • Why do you think it glows?
  • What causes the glow?
  • Where do fireflies go during the daytime?
  • Why is a firefly classified as a type of beetle?
  • Where do fireflies live?
  • Do all fireflies have a lantern that glows? (surprisingly, the answer is no…)

I’m also printing the “parts of  a beetle” page from Enchanted Learning for later this week.

I also LOVE the firefly lifecycle fan and wheel  at Teach With Me.  This site has some other great activities to supplement your firefly study.


Books about fireflies

books about fireflies | The Hands-On Homeschooler

Want to learn more about fireflies?  Here’s some great books that we’ve discovered…

Fireflies in the Night (Let’s Read and Find Out Science series) by Judy Hawes  — If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I LOVE the Let’s Read and Find Out books!  They have great factual information, and this one does not disappoint with it’s sweet story of a girl who learns about the lifecycle of a firefly as well as how they are helpful to humans.

Sam and the Firefly by PD Eastman — A classic tale of a firefly and an owl who get into a bit of mischef writing words in the sky.  Perfect for those emergent readers (AR level 2.0)!

Fireflies! by Julie Brinckloe — The story of a boy who catches a jar of fireflies, only to realize later that night that he must set them free.  An amazingly touching story, but can be used to teach literature or science — that is, if it doesn’t bring you to tears in the process!

Night In the Country by Cynthia Rylant — A simple story for younger children to help them to understand that the night is full of sounds and animals that are active.

real life homeschooling bloghop

This post is a part of a new monthly series called Real Life Homeschooling, which shares homeschooling ideas that you can use from your normal life to use as teachable moments.  Have a post that fits?  Then please share it below!


  1. Leann, I love the learning part you added to this fun summer time activity. I just pinned it and will be sharing it on our Virtual Summer Camp online community. Anyone is welcome to join: stop by! ~mari

  2. Great activities and resources, Leann! I have wonderful memories of firefly activities as a child, too. I featured your post at the living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Insect Unit Study Board at

  3. What a great selection of ideas related to fireflies!!

  4. Love this post – because I love fireflies, their bioluminescence, and the childhood memories they conjure. I’ll be sharing with my Science for Kids community on Google+.

  5. Sandra M. says:

    Wonderful, wonderful ideas! Pinned and shared in Backyard Classroom FB group!

  6. This is seriously awesome. We love fireflies (or “lightning bugs” as they’re sometimes called ’round here) ;-) and, again, more book lists (LOVE book lists!). That’s a great, simple experiment to see how to hold the jar to catch fireflies best. We might have to try some of these activities!

  7. Love this! But we call these things Lightning bugs :-) Aikman looks completely and totally absorbed by the “work” as he should be! Great article and idea!

  8. This is GREAT, my kids are SO into fireflies right now! Thanks for sharing it!

  9. What a fun learning experience! I always loved catching fireflies at night when I was growing up.

  10. I love all you did to learn about fireflies. We recently studied insects as well (although we did not focus on fireflies), and I created a game to help reinforce the anatomy of an insect. You can check it out here:

  11. Wow! What a great way to extend learning off a topic kids love. I shared this post in my round up of Mom’s Library from last week. If you get a chance, stop by Mom’s Library again this week, we have an iPad mini.

  12. What great lessons!! I cannot wait for my little one to be a bit older to go out and catch some. Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

  13. Forgot to pop over last week and let you know that I featured this as a highlight from The Kid’s Co-Op:

  14. Great lesson! I am bummed that we don’t see fireflies here in Northern CA. Now I am interested to check answers to some of your questions :)

  15. Sadly there are no fireflies here. I remember seeing them when we lived in California, but haven’t seen them here really. When we studied fireflies we ended up using glow sticks to pretend we were fireflies.

  16. I love how you incorporated so many teachable moments in such a naturally fun way! Thanks for linking up to Magic Moments Monday! Hope to see you back next month!

  17. I wish I lived in a place with fireflies! But, even though I can’t, this is a great resource for my family. And, a great reminder to make daily life a chance to connect with my kids. Thanks for sharing at Magic Moments Monday! I hope you share there again.

  18. Laur223 says:

    I love the activities….just one little concern. The order in which you have the Life-Cycle is incorrect. The pupa does not come before the larva. The correct sequence would be……1) Eggs 2) Larva 3) Pupa 4) Adult Firefly.


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