A bright future for fireflies?

My appreciation for most insects was late in developing- I very much recognize their contributions to world ecosystems today and am aware that they are integral to so many of the ecological processes we depend upon (like pollination and decomposition), but that wasn’t 4663355926always the case. Now I have a better understanding of how many other animals use insects as a food source (including humans) and how insects alter the environments around them, but, when I was growing up, in large part I simply classified them as “creepy” (and I will admit there are still a few groups that, although more respected now, are still seen that way). Even as a child, though, there were still certain insects that I found amazing- caterpillars (plus the moths and butterflies they became) were fun to watch, I liked catching ladybugs so they could crawl on my hands and arms, and fireflies were one of the greatest elements of an August summer night where I grew up in New Hampshire. I was mesmerized by the sheer number of glowing insects spread across the fields around the house where we lived- it was magical (and we would try to collect fireflies on our clothing so that we could glow as well).

I have heard that fireflies are not as common as they used to be, and certainly, as an adult, I have never seen the same scenes that were such a regular feature of my childhood. My guess is that pesticides and changes in land use are in some way involved, but I’ve also heard that light pollution is an issue with regard to fireflies. What I know about fireflies is pretty basic: males and females signal as part of the search for a reproductive partner, we usually saw the greatest number of insects in mid-summer, and we saw them in meadows rather than woods; that’s not much to work with, and I don’t even know what they eat when they aren’t busy signaling to each other.

So this month I will be looking into the status of fireflies around the world, trying to get a sense of why we should pay attention to firefly conservation and what the biggest threats are to their survival. Hopefully I can shed a little light on some creatures that were never on my “creepy” list but were also never thought of as a conservation concern.

Posted August 3, 2013 by Mirka Zapletal in Insects

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