Magical summers have lazy vacations, barbeques, 4th of July fireworks, and fireflies. As a child, it seemed the firefly’s light shows could rival the fireworks – but not so this year. There just seemed to be a myriad more fireflies in my younger days compared to now. Was this true? Have the fireflies been disappearing? Research on fireflies has only quite recently begun but already a decline in their populations has been observed. Very little is still understood about fireflies but scientists are warning that fireflies may become rare and eventually extinct with some predictions as soon as the next couple generations. Imagine, our grandchildren only being able to just tell their grandchildren of fireflies with none left alive in existence. Indeed, a depressing thought.
It is hard to imagine summer without fireflies.
Scientists have recently excelled their efforts in the research of these magical creatures. The firefly tale begins in the tail. It produces what is called “cold light” and is caused by a mixture of three chemicals: Luciferin (a chemical that is heat-resistant and glows under the right conditions), Luciferase (an enzyme that triggers light emission) and ATP (a chemical that converts to energy and initiates glow and one that all living things contain). In some species, even the eggs and larvae emit light –GLOWORMS! So far, the research of the firefly has proven both medically and scientifically useful.
Fireflies love warm and humid environments and thrive in forests, fields, marshes, near lakes, rivers and ponds. They can be found on all of the continents except Antarctica, coming out in the summertime to the world’s delight. It is unfortunate that there is plenty of antidotal evidence that areas once full of fireflies (going back generations), have seen recent and dramatic population decreases. The cause of the disappearance is still being researched however, most scientists blame development and light pollution. As open fields and forests are paved over, fireflies’ habitats disappear. The increased use of pesticides and herbicides are also a factor. Habitats disappear under housing and commercial development so firefly numbers dwindle.
TOO MUCH LIGHT AT NIGHT
The male and female fireflies use flashing lights to communicate and attract mates. Human light pollution is believed to interrupt these flash patterns. Lights from homes, streetlights, cars, and so on have made it difficult for fireflies to signal each other for mating, meaning fewer firefly larvae next season.
So what can you do to save the fireflies?
- Turn off outside lights at night and draw blinds.
- Don’t over-mow your lawn (you’re welcome dad) –fireflies live on the ground during the day and over-mowing disrupts them. Consider areas of long grasses in landscaping.
- Create water features in your landscapes (such as small ponds or a diverted river).
- Plant Trees!!! Pine is a firefly favorite as the canopy provides a low light area.
- Let some log litter accumulate (this is especially for those who live beneath forest canopies).
- Do NOT introduce earthworms to your yard! This not only causes the reduction of plant diversity it also causes the reduction of food availability for fireflies.
- Use natural fertilizers as chemical fertilizers have a definite effect on fireflies-say no to lawn spray!
- Use fewer pesticides. Many communities spray for mosquitoes at night and inadvertently poison the fireflies. We encourage a broad spectrum mosquito control program including reducing standing water and the use of larvacides. Talk to your community leaders as many have found that this can actually save money and have a less impact on firefly species.
- Talk to your neighbors and get involved. There is even a way to get your garden certified through the National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org).
It is up to us to save the fireflies before they are glowing, glowing, gone!