Summer nights in Michigan are spent catching fireflies, or wait, is it lightning bugs?

We all have the memories of grabbing a mason jar and running out into the cool night to collect as many fireflies as possible. We'd put a little grass in the bottom, and then use the jar as our own personal light show. Unfortunately most of us forgot to let the little lightning bugs out, and it was the last flight our little glowing friends would take. The reason we're going down memory lane isn't to guilt you over killing the bugs, it's to figure out exactly what they're called.

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Before today, I really had no idea that there was a heated debate over what these little glowing beetles were called. I think I've probably split it up between firefly and lightning bug my entire life. This might seem weird to anyone outside of Michigan, but it makes complete sense after reading about the name difference.

What determines if you say firefly or lightning bug?

There are two determining factors when it comes to which name you use, age and location.

Let's start with age determining if you say firefly or lightning bug. According to Jason Keeler the word lightning bug is used among the older generations, but Firefly is starting to take hold with younger people. The dialect change over the years is a natural progression, and could easily switch back with future generations.

The other reason is location, and this explanation makes a lot more sense to me. The maps below from Keeler show that the Midwest is pretty much all team lightning bug, while the west and northeast are team firefly. Keeler put a map of areas with the most frequent lightning strikes, and found that the areas with the most lightning strikes are in the lightning bug regions.

So does the presence of lightning determine the name? It looks like it.

So why would we call them both fireflies and lightning bugs in Michigan?

Take a close look at the naming map above. You can see that Michigan is one of the few states that has a mix of both lightning bug and firefly people. While most of the US is set on one or the other, here in Michigan it could go either way.

This made me feel a little better about not being 100% on either side, most likely because I grew up hearing people say both names.

So which is it for you, firefly or lightning bug?

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