The road ends, but the journey continues...

When Do Lightening Bugs Become Fireflies?

June is fast approaching and there is much scheduled.

The beginning of the month is my highly anticipated Visiting Artist Presentation/Performance at the Arts Center. The last weekend of the month is a long-planned mother/daughter trip. In between, there’s hubby’s and mine 45th wedding anniversary and Father’s Day. All-in-all a hearty, well-paced meal of events I’ve been looking forward to devouring for several months! HA!

So, what’s all that got to do with the question posed in this blog post title?

In prepping for my presentation/performance, the focus morphed into spotlighting prepared guitar in musical compositions. I fooled around with other composer’s pieces, most notable ‘Kalimba’ the featured piece for a rhythm study by A. Hirsch on the Aaron Shearer Foundation website. The sound was sort-of right, but not quite.

Plus, I wanted something I could incorporate into one of my own compositions. I dug out an experimental duo piece I wrote for classical guitar and banjo about a year ago when I was collaborating with banjo guy. I played through the guitar part in prepared guitar mode and voila! It was made for just such an application!

my prepared guitar set up

As often happens with original compositions, until something is marked as Fine// on the score, it is still a WIP. So, I adapted the original duo into a short solo prepared guitar piece to play during my Vising Artist Presentation/Performance. I had loads of fun experimenting with a final guitar ‘preparation’ and ended up using staples on 4 sets of strings to get the sound I wanted.

A great example of Kalimba/Mbira sounding prepared guitar can be heard in this piece played by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ):

“Okay, but what about the Lightening Bug/Firefly thing?” you may be wondering – albeit a bit impatiently.

Scroll back to April 6, 2023. Hubby was poised at his computer to be one of the first to enter our names in the Congaree National Park Firefly Viewing Lottery.

About 10 days later we were informed we acquired our first-choice date for the event.

In planning for this, I asserted my usage of the term ‘Lightening Bugs’ over ‘Fireflies’. It’s the term I grew up with and cling to even now as a point of identity!

The night of our excursion was a perfect night in the swamp for observing the lightening bugs’ synchronous light show. As we were immersed in Lightening Bug Glow, they seemed to be blinking a tempo (in sync, remember) to the prepared guitar piece I planned on playing for part of my Visiting Artist Presentation/Performance. The piece wafted through my mind (in sync) as the images of the lightening bugs hovered over and around us. I whispered to my hubby about my delightful discovery and he caught the vision, too.

In that moment, the original title of the piece died along with using my preferred bug nomenclature in the new title.

“Fireflies Arising for prepared guitar” rolls off the tongue nice and smooth.
It’s a rhythm thing.

What’s your preferred term for these wonderful critters?

About the following video:

“Every year tens of thousands of fireflies (Photuris frontalis) emerge from the leaf litter in Congaree National Park to begin their bioluminescent mating ritual. As darkness falls, this species of firefly, also commonly called a “snappy sync,” begins to flash in unison. The effect is like watching the heartbeat of the swamp, pulsing lights hovering over the bottomlands. This short film was created during the COVID-19 pandemic when the National Park was closed to the public and when the fireflies could be viewed without the interference of external lights.”


  1. Ally Bean

    I call them lightening bugs, but that’s because my parents called them fireflies and as a teenage I felt the need to rebel! To demonstrate my youthful modern sensibilities to the old fogies.

  2. I remembered visit my grandmother in Pennsylvania every summer and we called them lightening bugs and would catch them in jars.
    I listened to the African Suite music YouTube video while watching the Firefly video on mute – that was cool!

  3. Andy

    You have a lot going on! Happy Anniversary to you two ? I loved the video! And as for the name of the insects, it reminded me that I read somewhere (possibly in a Stephen King short story) that over there you sometimes refer to wasps as yellowjackets?

    • laura bruno lilly

      You read right….although, I’m not one of them who does!

  4. Marty

    Lots of exciting things happening for you for sure. But that 45th is both special *and* an accomplishment. Congrats to you both!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Awww thanks, Marty.

  5. marissthequilter

    Congratulations on your 45th anniversary and your solo performance. Enjoy the forthcoming June delights.
    More congratulations on your fine// composition.
    There are also fireflies at Hogsback (which has no streetlights). They are magical, as is the video from Congaree National Park

    • laura bruno lilly

      I missed your comment till now. Sorry for the delay in response! Thanks for the fine round of congratulations, Mariss. After all my extolling the ‘right way’ to refer to these creatures, I realized I misspelled my preferred term! Their rightful spelling is: Lightning Bugs not Lightening Bugs!
      Geesh! Oh well, Fireflies are more poetic that’s for certain.

      • marissthequilter

        It’s the alliteration and assonance that gives the word its poetic lilt. But you knew that anyway.
        Until now I had not heard the term lightning bugs. A good description of their effect

        • laura bruno lilly

          …and as kids, just more fun to catch lightning bugs to light up our dark spaces than ‘fire’ ya know?

  6. deborahbrasket

    Sounds like you have some wonderful things to look forward to. I can’t wait to hear your Fireflies Arising song. Yes, Fireflies does sound more melodic than lightning bugs, which is what we called them as kids too. I really enjoyed the music links here and firefly show. Wish I could have been there with you in the wild watching them. Sounds magical!

    • laura bruno lilly

      There are just some things an (he)artist must do in one’s art…especially in the name of more ‘melodic’ titles! 🙂
      I might be able to do a home recording over the Fall…just for fun. It’s all part of getting more proficient in that skill…If I do, you’ll be the first to get the mp3 in your inbox.

  7. Cheryl, Gulf Coast Poet

    Wonderful post, Laura! Brings back memories! Al the best with upcoming events. Hoe exciting! <3

  8. L. Marie

    I’ve always called them lightening bugs! I spent many evenings chasing them and catching them (though now I regret caging them in a jar). Yay for the question and your winning your viewing date. That is so cool! What a beautiful video of the lightening bugs!

    • laura bruno lilly

      We share similar Chicago childhood experiences (as you know) even if I’m older than you! HA! But I think it’s cool that us kids from the city had such a ‘rural’ thing going with those Lightening Bugs of lazy hazy summertime blues days! As for the jar thing – who knew? Except to say after one ‘death from captivity’, we were pretty careful to ‘let them go’ after observing them (scientifically of course)!

  9. Jennie

    Of course! Their light is a rhythm and just what you needed to see. I’m glad you made the musical connection. The title really does roll off the tongue.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Lightening Bugs in my heart, Fireflies in my ‘art’. (Just sounded like the right response!)

      • Jennie

        Love it! ?

  10. zippyquilts

    Yep, they’re lightening bugs unless somebody’s getting poetic on us. But whatever.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yep. Somebody’s gotta get poetic for the sake of the music, ya know? And, no. I have not abandoned my preferred term in regular usage, Zippy!

  11. Khaya Ronkainen

    A delightful post, Laura! I enjoyed listening to the music and watching those fireflies; they are quite magical. Thank you for sharing.

    Your June sounds like lots of fun with all the upcoming activities and celebrations. Congrats on your 45th wedding anniversary!! That’s a milestone worth celebrating. Enjoy the summer season! <3

    • laura bruno lilly

      Happy to share the magic with you, Khaya.

  12. piecefulwendy

    Lightning Bugs – bring back memories of late summer nights, still playing outdoors with friends and watching the lightning bugs (or trying to catch them in a jar). What a fun experience you had, and how fun that your music synchronized with it!

    • laura bruno lilly

      It was a Serendipitous moment when I realized the music and the Lightening Bugs were in sync with each other!

  13. Jane's Heartsong

    Exciting month! Happy anniversary and enjoy the visit, too!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yep – lots to look forward to. Enjoy your warmer and clearer weather, Jane.

  14. Laura

    Alas! Growing up and living on the west coast, fireflies are not an experience I can enjoy. Once, when Hubby and I took the children to Illinois to visit friends, we did have a joyful evening watching their symphony of lights. So cool!
    I know nothing about music, except what I like to listen to, and what I learn from you. I had no idea that one could staple their strings to manipulate sound. Genius! 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks for letting me know you like & learn from my musical tidbits, Laura!

      • Laura

        I pay attention. Ha, ha!

  15. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    Lightening bugs! Your post brought up memories of summer nights with my neighborhood “gang” watching the lightening bugs. Thank you.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Chela! My kazoo quilter bud! Now we have Lightening Bugs in common, too!
      Yeah, we’d sit out back (this was when we lived in Chicago) all of us cousins, watch and eat our Spumoni – spitting out the citron, then go inside and beg for more – asking a different Aunt each time. HA! I know you ‘get’ that!

      • Jane's Heartsong

        I am used to the term ” fire flies” but it would be good to note that they light up like flashes of lightning. I saw them when I was a young kid at camp and was spooked until I understood what they were.That video was really cool! Take care, have fun meeting with other musicians and let the magic happen!

        • laura bruno lilly

          Aha, ever the peace-maker! Thanks for the insight behind the two terms .

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