North American Fireflies Host Low Bacterial Diversity


Although there are numerous studies of firefly mating flashes, lantern bioluminescence, and anti-predation lucibufagin metabolites, almost nothing is known about their microbiome. We therefore used 16S rRNA community amplicon sequencing to characterize the gut and body microbiomes of four North American firefly taxa: Ellychnia corrusca, the Photuris versicolor species complex, Pyractomena borealis, and Pyropyga decipiens. These firefly microbiomes all have very low species diversity, often dominated by a single species, and each firefly type has a characteristic microbiome. Although the microbiomes of male and female fireflies did not differ from each other, Ph. versicolor gut and body microbiomes did, with their gut microbiomes being enriched in Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter. Ellychnia corrusca egg and adult microbiomes were unique except for a single egg microbiome that shared a community type with E. corrusca adults, which could suggest microbial transmission from mother to offspring. Mollicutes that had been previously isolated from fireflies were common in our firefly microbiomes. These results set the stage for further research concerning the function and transmission of these bacterial symbionts.

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Data Availability

All data are available on NCBI under BioProject PRJNA563849. Raw sequencing reads are deposited in SRA under BioSample numbers SAMN14678004–SAMN14678257.

Code Availability

The commands used for all analyses are attached as Suppl. File S2.


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We would like to thank Erin L. Mostoller and Dr. Craig W Schneider, both from Trinity College, Hartford, CT, and Dr. Steven Deyrup from Siena College, Loudonville, NY, for their assistance with obtaining the firefly samples. We would also like to thank the members of the Klassen Lab for their thoughtful feedback on this manuscript before submission and the UConn Microbial Analysis, Resources, and Services facility for microbiome sequencing.


This work was supported by a University of Connecticut Scholarship Facilitation Fund grant to J.L.K.

Author information




Sample collection: SRS; experiment design: EAG, SRS, and JLK; data analysis: EAG; figure and table creation: EAG; writing (draft preparation and editing): EAG and JLK.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonathan L. Klassen.

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Emily A. Green and Jonathan L. Klassen approve this for publication. Scott R. Smedley is deceased and therefore was unable to provide explicit consent.

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Scott R. Smedley Deceased

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Green, E.A., Smedley, S.R. & Klassen, J.L. North American Fireflies Host Low Bacterial Diversity. Microb Ecol (2021).

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  • Fireflies
  • Microbiome
  • Microbial ecology
  • Insects
  • Low-complexity communities
  • Mollicutes