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What Is the State Insect of Pennsylvania? Facts, Symbolism, & FAQ


There are 48 states that have an official insect, with only Iowa and Michigan choosing not to name one. In most states, the state insect holds some kind of connection to the state, and in Pennsylvania, it’s no different. The Pennsylvania General Assembly named the firefly the state insect in 1974, but what kind of connection does the firefly have to Pennsylvania?

We’ll answer that for you here before diving into everything else you could want to know about the state insect of Pennsylvania and why they picked the firefly in the first place!

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What Is the State Insect of Pennsylvania?

The state insect of Pennsylvania is the firefly. More specifically, it’s the Photuris pennsylvanica, which entomologist C. DeGeer discovered in the state in 1774.

Interestingly enough, while C. DeGeer discovered the bug in 1774, the state lines of Pennsylvania were a bit different then. If you used modern borders, it’s really unknown in which state C. DeGeer found the firefly. It could be Pennsylvania, but it’s also possible he picked up the insect in Delaware, New York, Ohio, or even Maryland.

Super macro close up firefly
Image Credit: khlungcenter, Shutterstock

How Did Pennsylvania Pick the Firefly?

For a long time, Pennsylvania didn’t have a state insect, and it seemed like it was going to stay that way. That was, until a determined schoolteacher, principal, and student body at Highland Park Elementary School decided it was time to change that.

They picked the firefly because of its strong Pennsylvanian roots and their massive population throughout the state. Because of the determined efforts by those at Highland Park Elementary School, the Pennsylvania General Assembly adopted the firefly as the state insect in 1974.

While that would normally be the end of it, in 1987 Pennsylvania decided to take it a step further by picking a specific species of firefly as the state insect, and they went with the Photuris pennsylvanica.

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Fast Firefly Facts

Fireflies are the state insect of Pennsylvania, and they have plenty of interesting facts. We’ve highlighted five of the most interesting for you here:

1. They’re a Beetle

While we call the firefly a “fly,” the truth is that the firefly isn’t a fly at all. They’re actually a type of beetle, joining the hundreds of thousands of beetle species¹ out there.

Close up Macro Firefly
Image By: balloonimals, Pixabay

2. There Are 24 Firefly Species in Pennsylvania

To be fair, this is really just a guess. Right now, there are 24 known species of fireflies¹ in Pennsylvania. But since there’s still so much to learn about these insects, there may be even more that we’re still trying to learn more about.

3. Fireflies are Predators

We look at fireflies and don’t think much about them since they’re small and leave us alone. But if you were a smaller insect, you’d have good reason to be terrified of fireflies. Fireflies are vicious predators, and it’s even common for females to use false mating signals¹ to draw in males so they can eat them.

Night firefly light
Image By: anko70, Shutterstock

4. There’s a Pennsylvania Firefly Festival

Do you love fireflies? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, Pennsylvania has a festival each year where these little bugs are the star. In recent years, it’s been a virtual festival¹ because of COVID, but here’s to hoping it gets back to an in-person event soon!

5. Most Pennsylvanians Call Fireflies “Lightning Bugs”

While “firefly” is the official name for these bugs, if you actually go to Pennsylvania, that’s not what most people will call them. There they’re far more likely to call them “lightning bugs,” but they’ll know what you’re talking about if you call them a firefly. They’ll also have a pretty good idea that you’re not from around there!

Lightning Bugs Fire Fly
Image By: Japan’s Fireworks, Shutterstock

garden flower divider Final Thoughts

The next time you see a “lightning bug,” think of Pennsylvania. It’s the state insect there for a reason, and if you ever get to visit the state during a warm summer night, you’re sure to see hundreds of these little beetles lighting up the night sky.

Featured Image Credit: FranciscoJavierCoradoR, Pixabay


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