Indiana’s Premier Science Festival

Indiana Now has a State Insect – Say’s Firefly


Say’s Firefly
Photo Credit: John Obermeyer
Purdue Entomology Department

Indiana was one of only three states that did not have a state insect – until this year that is. In 2018 the legislature named Say’s Firefly the official state insect. Thanks to the hard work of students at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette there are now only two states without a state insect. This firefly was first proposed as the state insect 20 years ago but legislative roadblocks prevented the needed legislation. But three years ago the Cumberland third grade students and their teacher Mrs. Sumudio decided that Indiana needed a state insect and began efforts to make it happen. The first two years of effort were unsuccessful but in 2018 the students got Governor Holcomb on their side in this effort and the “Firefly Bill” as it became known was passed into law.


The state insect is Pyractomena angulata a firefly that is often called Say’s Firefly because it was collected and named by famed naturalist Thomas Say in 1825 when he lived and worked in New Harmony, Indiana. This firefly species is found throughout the state of Indiana in the vicinity of marshy land where the larvae (immatures) of the species that are called glowworms live. The adult insects produce an amber-colored flash that is 10 – 12 quick flashes (flickers) that reminds some of the quick flashes that sometimes show up in old movies. Say’s firefly can be seen flashing from late May to Mid-July.


Fireflies are wonderful insects to entice children to interact with nature. In addition to the interest these insects induce in all who see them flash, the chemistry behind the light – called phosphorescence – has fascinated scientists. The chemistry associated with the light production has been used to produce glowsticks and to help target drugs to cancer cells. In addition the flashing of fireflies has fascinated poets and song writers. The Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley included fireflies in several poems including the line “Fireflies like golden seeds are sown about the night.”


At Celebrate Science Indiana on Saturday, October 6, you will be able to learn more about the Say’s Firefly, see them in action and learn more about the biology and chemistry behind how they create light.


Article by Tom Turpin, Retired Purdue Professor of Entomology



In Dr. Turpin’s article, we learned about the Say’s Firefly. Celebrate Science Indiana 2018 will highlight the importance of fireflies and provide an opportunity for visitors to also see the glowworms, which are the larval (immature) stage of this insect. The firefly is only one or many species of animals that have six legs and that we call insects. Anyone who spends time outdoors has come in contact with many common insects such as grasshoppers, butterflies, beetles and ants. Historically, some insects have been quite large. Fossils of giant dragon flies with wingspans between 20 and 30 inches have been found. Dr. Turpin, Purdue Entomology Professor Emeritus, will be on hand at Celebrate Science Indiana on Saturday, October 6 to show you live Say’s Fireflies and to answer questions about the Say’s Firefly as well as other insect related questions you may have.


Robert Yost, Executive Director, Celebrate Science Indiana

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