Turn your lights out to help save the lightning bugs

Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Outdoors

If you are a lightning bug fan who didn’t get tickets to this year’s Pennsylvania Firefly Festival in the Pennsylvania Wilds, you’re in good company.

Unlike the early days, when any and all were welcome to come watch the rare synchronous display of male Photinus carolinus blinking in unison — it drew more than 1,000 people on one night in 2016 — the annual fest held on Peggy and Ken Butler’s farm in Kelletville, Forest County, now allows just 100 attendees over two days. Which explains why the 2022 festival sold out in less than 5 minutes on May 1.

People came from all across the U.S. and even overseas (fireflies are especially popular in Asia).

“It was just unmanageable on our end with our small group of volunteers,” says Ms. Butler, who is a speech and language pathologist for the Forest County School District.

And with so many feet tromping through the woods at one time, the crowds endangered the unique environment that makes this patch of Pennsylvania woods near Tionesta one of just a handful of places across the globe to find synchronous fireflies.

“We realized there were way too many people, causing habitat destruction,” says festival board member Jeff Calta of Chicora.


Scientists warned against exactly that when the rare beetles were discovered there in 2012 by a group of environmentally savvy campers, and the idea of a festival was born.

Perhaps fortuitously, social distancing restrictions put in place during the pandemic allowed the festival — created as a nonprofit organization in 2013 — to “hit the reset button” while also making it a more intimate experience for those lucky enough to get one of the $50 tickets.

Disappointing, for sure, but you can still support the festival’s mission through a new initiative launched this year.

The “Lights Out for Lightning Bugs” campaign kicks off Sunday with the goal of promoting the conservation and protection of fireflies across the state. To help the bugs find each other in your yard and reproduce, festival organizers ask people to turn off or shade their porch and outside lights for at least through Saturday, June 25.


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