Fireflies or lightning bugs: what do Americans call them?

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
June 09, 2021, 1:15 PM UTC

There are a few giveaways of summertime: scorching heat, fireworks, grill-outs, and bright bugs that light up the backyard at night. But what you call these flying insects that emit a light from their abdomen depends on where you live: those in the West and Northeast say fireflies, while everywhere else people tend to call them lightning bugs. 

A YouGov poll of more than 14,000 Americans shows that three in five Westerners (60%) call these insects fireflies, while one-quarter (25%) refer to them as lightning bugs. Within the Western region, those living along the Pacific division (61%) and those in the Mountain region (59%) are equally likely to say fireflies. 

Those living in the Midwest are the most likely to refer to these flickering fliers as “lighting bugs.” Nearly three in five Midwesterners (59%) call them this, while one-third (33%) say they are fireflies. Midwesterners that live on the Western side of the region (37%) are slightly more likely than those on the Eastern side of the region (30%) to refer to them as fireflies, though majorities in both parts of the region tend to say lightning bugs (55% and 62% respectively). 

About half of Southerners say lightning bugs (52%) over fireflies (36%), though those in the Western part of the region (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana) are split between saying fireflies (44%) and lightning bugs (45%). About half of Southerners living along the Atlantic coast say lightning bugs (52%) over fireflies (35%).  

The most likely part of the country to refer to these insects as lightning bugs (65%) are those living in the central part of the South (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia). Just one-quarter of people living in these states call them fireflies (23%). 

Along the Northeast, half (50%) say lightning bugs, while nearly two in five (39%) say fireflies. There are distinct differences within the Northeast region, however. Those in the Middle Atlantic region (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York) tend to say lightning bugs (56%) over fireflies (32%). Northeasterners living in the New England region tend to do the reverse: three in five (61%) say fireflies while three in 10 (31%) say lightning bugs.

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Related: One-quarter of Americans would eat a cicada-based food 

Methodology: 14,132 US adults were asked, “What do you most often call the flying insects that emit a light from their abdomen?” Response options: Fireflies, Lightning bugs, Something else, I do not have a name for these insects, Don’t know. There were 5,373 adults interviewed from the South, 3,150 from the Midwest, 3,045 from the West, and 2,564 from the Northeast. The results were weighted to be nationally representative of the United States. 

Image: Photo by Flash Dantz from Pexels