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Published on Friday, May 12, 2017

Where Did the Fireflies Go?


Where Did the Fireflies Go?

(Photo by xenmate via Flickr)

Fireflies are a summertime staple that many people remember fondly from childhood camping trips. But those same fireflies may just be a distant memory for the next generation. Fireflies are starting to go the way of the dinosaurs and may soon disappear completely.

About Fireflies

Fireflies begin their lives as larvae, often in rotting wood or small ponds in the forest. As they grow, they often prefer to stay in damp areas such as fields, forests and marshes. They thrive in warm, humid areas with standing bodies of water.

But their numbers have begun to dwindle. For years, scientists have been sounding the alarm that the world’s 2000 species of fireflies are slowly starting to disappear. Alex Chow, assistant professor of biogeochemistry at the Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, explains how it’s happening. He says, “Everyone can see how they’re changing. I never see someone come in and say, ‘I’m seeing fewer butterflies than 10 years ago.’ But I have people say, ‘I’m seeing fewer fireflies.’”

Unfortunately, scientists aren’t clear on exactly what is causing the disappearance of the fireflies. However, it is clear that human development is negatively affecting firefly populations.

Habitat Loss

Fireflies thrive in wet forest areas with sources of water. Unfortunately, as human populations continue to grow, finding an ideal location for fireflies becomes harder and harder. Forests are being cut down in favor of building houses, meadows are becoming lawns and wetlands are being paved over. Fireflies are losing their homes thanks to human growth and development.

Light Pollution

Fireflies use their glowing lights not only to entertain us but to communicate with one another, to find mates and to establish territory. When using their lights to communicate, the messages are often coordinated across large groups of thousands of fireflies.

However, scientists have discovered that these large groups of fireflies can get out of sync when interrupted by other light sources. Streetlights, house lights and car headlights can all interfere and make it harder for fireflies to communicate. Human created light pollution can negatively affect fireflies to the point where mates are unable to find each other. Scientists believe this is one of the reasons why firefly numbers are dwindling.

What People Are Doing to Solve the Problem?

While firefly numbers are decreasing, some areas of the world are actually seeing an increase. In China, a group of firefly larvae were brought into an urban park to re-establish a colony there. The park, which opened in 2015 in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, became so popular with tourists that other similar parks were opened with annual summer hours to visit the growing firefly populations. The original park is now home to over 10,000 fireflies. The park has a breeding area, science area, and sections where visitors can safely walk through the firefly habitat.

As well as increasing their numbers, the fireflies are also helpful in boosting ecotourism. The Second International Firefly Symposium touts the benefits of fireflies for increasing ecotourism and bringing in added revenue to local communities.

How Can You Help?

While you may not be able to bring thousands of firefly larvae into your forest, you can help to protect fireflies. Here are four ways you can help:

  1. Turn off outdoor lights. Light pollution can negatively affect fireflies so turn off any outdoor lights that aren’t needed.

  2. Don’t interrupt logs and forest litter. Fireflies lay their eggs in rotting wood so leaving fallen branches gives them more places to lay their eggs.

  3. Create and protect water features. If you have a large yard, create a small pond where fireflies can thrive. If you don’t have the space, do your part to protect small areas of still water in your area as these are ideal for fireflies.

  4. Join Clemson University’s Vanishing Firefly Project. The Vanishing Firefly Project is a mobile app where you can directly contribute to firefly research using your smart phone. You simply go outside, count flashes and report your data using the app. It’s a great way to get the next generation involved in firefly conservation.

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Author: AThompson

Categories: Blogs, Research, Energy & Power, Animals & Wildlife



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