Nature’s Night Lights

Thursday 30th May 2024

…a blog written by David Smith, Buglife’s Social Change and Advocacy Officer.

Hands up those that watched the Northern Lights dance across the sky earlier this month?

In May 2024, more people than ever before were able to witness the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis, a natural phenomenon usually confined to the polar regions of the planet, better known as the ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ Lights. Thanks to an exceptional solar storm, the auroras were stronger than they have ever been and extended towards the equator lighting up the skies above more populous areas of the planet.

Unfortunately, the incredible light show that was put on in early May is rare, many people missed it and woke up to thousands of pictures and reports, with the hope they might catch a glimpse the next night.

For those of you in Northern Europe who missed the aurora, fear not, nature’s nocturnal light shows are just warming up. May is the start of ‘Glow-worm’ season, when our most widely distributed firefly emerges and starts signalling. Late May to early September (with a peak in mid-July) as soon as it gets dark is a great time to get outside and look for these little beacons of natural light.

Glow-worms are not worms but are in fact beetles belonging to the Lampyridae family, better known as fireflies. Glow-worms use their own form of light to communicate, by carrying out a chemical reaction in specialised light-emitting organs. Unlike some of the other firefly species found elsewhere on the planet, the Common Glow-worm (Lampyris noctiluca) doesn’t have the same control of this chemical reaction, so their lights stay on for longer before they switch off. This makes finding Common Glow-worms straightforward, by looking out for small greeny-yellow LED like lights in hedgerows and grasses. When you do find a glowing specimen, it is likely to be an adult female as males and larvae have smaller light-emitting organs and glow briefly and faintly.

Unfortunately, much like the Northern Lights, most people don’t get to witness this natural nocturnal wonder. Glow-worms are in decline, and favour places away from people, lights and chemicals. They are widespread, but we need people to go looking for them to provide a better understanding of where they are thriving and where they are declining.


Female Glow-worm in South West England – July 2023 © David Smith

So now you are probably wondering how do I catch a glimpse at this special summer night sight?

Our friends over at the UK Glow-worm Survey have lots of helpful advice and has been gathering Glow-worm data since 1990!

The best starting point is to find Glow-worms on a known site (on public land) so you know what to look for. The Glow-worm survey has a list of places where they have been seen in the past and more recent reports. It’s worth looking in similar sites in your local area. Old railway lines are ideal sites, but any unimproved grassland is worth a look. Go along after dark, with someone else for safety, and take a torch to prevent you falling down rabbit holes and to help you make notes, but make sure to avoid extremely bright lights so to maintain your night vision and best chance of spotting a glowing specimen.

Once you have found Glow-worms make a note of what you have seen and report them to the Glow-worm Survey. We know very little about our nocturnal invertebrates so any data can help us protect them and ensure they are glowing for future generations.

If you are in the UK can submit records directly to iRecord: If you spot a Glow-worm in Scotland, please let Scottish Glow-worm Survey know:

If you are in Europe and seen a Glow-worm – or any other firefly, please record your sighting via iNaturalist.

And if you  are reading this from North America and happen to find fireflies, check out this blog from Firefly Atlas for the best places to submit your sightings.

What next?

Nature’s night lights are threatened by ever increasing light pollution. To give us the best chance of seeing the natural lights we must reduce light pollution caused by artificial light at night. Why not join our campaign to ensure it is Curtains for Light Pollution to help us nurture the night shift. The campaign provides guides and resources to help reduce light pollution and increase habitats for nocturnal wildlife.

While not as expansive as the Northern Lights, the bright glow of a Glow-worm can captivate even the most experienced naturalist. So, why not fill social feeds with pictures of Glow-worms this summer and become the envy of your friends and family!

Main Image Credit: Northern Lights in South West England May 2024 © David Smith