Lighting bugs describe a widespread category of thousands of glow bugs. Also known as fireflies, lighting bugs are types of bugs and not flies.
Usually winged, the lightning bugs are nocturnal and produce light, which makes them a highly distinctive species.
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Lightning Bug Identification
Fireflies may be difficult to correctly identify outside of their glowing physical traits as they come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Thousands of beetles that emit light can be categorized as fireflies.
Fireflies come in different colors and their light organ may also be seen in different areas of its body.
Many lighting bugs come in a combination of brown and black colors, particularly on the wings.
Most fireflies can be identified by their bright light organs. These are bright areas of the body seen on female bugs.
Light organs can also be spotted on the ventral abdomen and the dorsal abdomen. They can be white or off-white during the day and bright green or yellow when glowing at night.
Many fireflies produce light at night while some may glow even during the day, a period when the bug may rest in a shaded area.
Female lighting bugs may also be wingless, mostly resembling a bug in its larval stage.
Brown, dark brown, gray, black, and green are some of the colors these bugs come in.
Most fireflies grow to a size of up to 1 inch, although larger species exist.
Common Glow Worms are an example species where winged males measure around 0.5 inches while wingless females measure around 1 inch.
Males are brown while females are mostly black, with colorful pink sections along their larval bodies.
Most fireflies live either in temperate forests or in tropical areas. Humidity and plenty of food are among the main factors that attract these bugs here (note that some lighting bugs don’t feed as adults).
Both winged and wingless, lighting bugs come in bright colors such as tan or dark colors such as dark brown or black. They can have wings or a larviforme (a shape resembling the larval bug stage) appearance in the case of females.
Lighting bugs use lights to communicate breeding desires. Females can have a continuous glow or intermittent light glow to attract males.
Lighting bugs are mostly a species of the summer, being associated with warm summer nights. These types of bugs are rarely seen outside of the warmer months.
Many species of bugs which resemble lighting bugs may be seen sooner, starting with the spring.
Even some lighting bugs are seen sooner, in the spring. However, most types of lighting bugs only appear later in the year, typically just starting to spread at the beginning of the summer.
Bugs that Look Like Lightning Bugs
The following species of beetles are common and resemble various types of lighting bugs.
1. Goldenrod Soldier Beetle
A nectarivore of North America, Goldenrod Solider Beetles (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) are similar to lighting bugs.
An elongated shape and brown wings with black marks make the species similar. These beetles also have long antennae, just many types of lighting bugs.
Midwestern territories of The United States are its home.
Goldenrod Solider Beetles are known pollinators of different types of wildflowers such as Autumn onions.
Apart from its shape and color, this beetle is also confused with lighting bugs based on its common nature, being one of the most present beetles of the Midwest.
One main difference is that female Goldenrod Solider Beetles are winged.
2. Margined Leatherwing Beetle
A very similar species, Margined Leathewing Beetles (Chauliognathus marginatus) are also highly similar to lighting bugs through their light brown colors.
These bugs have light brown wing margins plus inner black sections, also resembling the wings and color patterns of Goldenrod Solider Beetles.
This species is also found in North American forests but it also lives in the humid forests of Central America.
3. American Carrion Beetle
The larvae of The American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana) can easily be confused with a wingless female lighting bug.
This larva has a dark brown color without any bright patterns.
It is found in carrion which it consumes together with adults. Even adult American Carrion Beetles can sometimes easily get confused with lightning bugs.
Dark brown elytra with a very bright cephalothorax may make it seem these adults are carrying a glowing gland.
Both adults and larvae feed on carrion. Adults also feed on the larvae, which further differentiates them from glowing bugs.
4. Groundselbush Beetle
A species found across the world, Groundselbush Beetles (Trirhabda bacharidis) are found in shrubs, trees, and grasses.
These types of bugs have a stereotypical brown and black color with multicolored wings.
Found in North America, Asia, and Australia, these bugs have dual-colored wings, similar to many types of lighting bugs.
Mostly black, the wings have pale tan or cream marks in the center area of the wings. They also show a light brown thorax with additional black spots.
Like many other similar bugs, Groundselbush Beetles have long black antennae, almost the length of their body.
This species is detrimental to the ecosystem as it eats and skeletonizes plant leaves.
5. Striped Blister Beetle
Male and female Striped Blister Beetles (Epicauta vittata) resemble multiple types of lighting bugs.
Males of the species have a widening body towards the elytra with black and brown striped wings.
The thorax of the species is black while its head is brown.
Striped Blister Beetle larvae can easily be confused with female lighting bugs as well, especially in the later growth stages.
Initially bright, the larvae of Striped Blister Beetles become red-brown or brown. With short legs and now wings, it can be taken for a female lightning bug.
Most importantly, Striped Blister Beetles resemble lighting bugs through their habits. They prefer to hide in a shaded place during daytime heat and only come out in the evening.
6. Colorado Soldier Beetle
A species feeding on different types of asters, Colorado Solider Beetles (Chauliognathus basalis) resemble both flying and flightless lighting bugs.
The adult of the species shares brown and black wing color patterns with the lighting bugs that can fly and with multiple male lighting bugs.
Brown and black colors are also specific to the head and thorax of these bugs.
Colorado Solider Beetle larvae are further similar to these types of bugs with light organs as they are mostly dark.
Black with a brown head, these types of larvae are known for eating leaves. They resemble female lighting bugs.
7. Yellow-necked Soldier Beetle
A distant relative of fireflies, adult Yellow-necked Solider Beetles (Podabrus flavicollis) are beetles that highly resemble fireflies seen on summer evenings.
These beetles have a dark appearance with a contrasting yellow-brown thorax.
Yellow-brown nuances also border the long black wings of the species.
Its head, antennae, and legs are all-black, highly resembling the appearance of adult male fireflies.
Seen in the summer, Yellow-necked Soldier Beetles are also present in The United States. They can be seen around Maine and New York.
8. Wrinkled Soldier Beetle
This type of leaf-eating beetle (Podabrus rugosulus) has a similar color and a similar size to most fireflies.
It grows to a size of up to 0.5 inches but is generally smaller. A dark appearance dominates the color patterns of adults.
Wrinkled Solider Beetles are found in North America where they live on leaves. These bugs are easily spotted on leaves as they have black wings and brown thorax.
Some of the areas they like to live in include gardens and orchards. They also inhabit plantations and open areas with tall vegetation.
While the larvae of these bugs eat leaves, adults can even eat bugs. Aphids in fir woodlands are among their favorite prey.
9. Texas Soldier Beetle
Found on multiple types of wildflowers in the summer, Texas Solider Beetles (Chauliognathus scutellaris) may also be wrongly mistaken for lightning bugs.
This is a species with an elongated body shape and dual-color wings.
Its long wings have yellow-brown coloring with black spots both towards the tips and towards the base of the wings.
A similar yellow-brown and black color combination is seen on the cephalothorax of these bugs.
These bugs are also more active in the spring. March to April marks their highly active period, unlike many types of lighting bugs.
10. California Bordered Plant Bug
California Bordered Plant Bugs (Largus californicus) are found along California and The West Coast.
They also inhabit Baja California and Central America and may sometimes be taken for beetles such as lighting bugs based on their contrasting color combination.
This species of beetle is mostly black but it features either brown or orange-brown wing margins and thorax margins.
Its head, thorax, and wings are mostly black, as are the legs and antennae.
Feeding on plant pollen, California Bordered Plant Bugs may only be confused with lighting bugs as adults as their larvae are bright.
11. Two-lined Leatherwing
A type of black and brown soldier beetle, Two-lined Leatherwings (Atalantycha bilineata) are also North American natives.
These types of bugs have a brown or red-brown thorax and head. 2 additional black spots are seen on their thorax while their wings are black.
Brown margins are further seen across its wings while the legs of Two-lined Leatherwings are brown and black.
Feeding on asters and wildflowers, Two-lined Leatherwings are similar to lighting bugs in their season as well.
They are spotted from June to August in open fields and along woodlands. Asters and other wildflowers are preferred by these bugs.
12. Boxelder Bugs
Brown and black colors are specific to the flat-looking Boxelder Bug (Boisea trivittata).
This is one of the most common types of black and brown bugs on trees such as ash.
Their presence is high during the summer, a period when they can easily be confused with many other types of bugs on trees.
Boxelder bugs are often seen in red coloring as juveniles. The young boxelder bug can be spotted on the ground or up on tree trunks.
Often living in groups, the young and wingless boxelder bug can be confused with female lighting bugs.
These types of bugs can be differentiated from lighting bugs based on the trees they are seen on. A preference towards female boxelders is specific to these bugs.
13. Milkweed Bugs
Various types of milkweed in North America is home to Milkweed Bugs, a species that resembles lightning bugs.
Orange and black or brown and black colors are specific to these types of bugs.
Some of the differences between the species include the migratory habits of Milkweed Bugs. An overwintering trip to Central America is specific to Milkweed Bugs in the Northern territories.
A species also common in Central America, Milkweed Bugs are further differentiated from lighting bugs by the host plant of their eggs.
These hosts include species such as The Caribbean Milkweed. The populations of Milkweed Bugs in warm climates don’t migrate, on the other hand.