Pennsylvania State Insect


Pennsylvania firefly flashing its light

Pennsylvania firefly flashing its light; photo © E.R. Degginger/ Color-Pic, Inc. (used by permission). 

State Insect

The firefly: Photuris pennsylvanica (DeGeer) was designated the official state insect of Pennsylvania in 1974. A small, unremarkable beetle by day, fireflies can transform a midsummer night into a fairyland of tiny, brilliant twinkling lights - a true wonder of nature.

Commonly called "lightning bug" in Pennsylvania, the firefly produces light through an efficient chemical reaction using special photic organs, with very little heat given off as wasted energy. One or both sexes use species-specific flash patterns to attract members of the opposite sex (though not all firefly species are bioluminescent as adults).

These flashing signals range from a continuous glow, to discrete single flashes, to "flash-trains" (composed of multi-pulsed flashes). In most North American species of firefly (including Photuris pennsylvanica), the males fly about flashing their species-specific flash pattern, while females are typically perched on vegetation near the ground. When a flashing male attracts a female, she responds at a fixed time delay after the male's last flash. A short flash dialogue may ensue between the fireflies as the male firefly locates her position and descends to mate.

How did the Firefly become a Symbol of Pennsylvania?

It began when elementary students in the town of Upper Darby saw an article about Maryland adopting a state insect. Pennsylvania lacked a state insect at the time, so the students entered their selection of an insect to the General Assembly. The firefly was formally designated by an enactment from the Pennsylvania General Assembly on April 10, 1974.

Upper Darby Elementary School's Principal at the time, Thomas Hafner and schoolteacher Debe Hill communicated with Governor Milton Shapp to make the effort successful. The students were presented with a bronze plaque in the shape of a keystone which now hangs in the front hall of Highland Park Elementary School. (from PA Historical & Museum Collection).

The firely is also a state symbol of Tennessee. Most states have adopted at least one insect symbol as a state insect, state butterfly, state bug, or state agricultural insect 



Pennsylvania firefly, Photuris pennsylvanica; photo © J. E. Lloyd: Common Insects / U of Florida (used by permission).

Pennsylvania firefly, Photuris pennsylvanic


Firefly (Lightning Bug) Lampyrida