Inside: Surprisingly, firefly decline has been noticed in North America. There are 6 important reasons why and some practical things we can all do to help.
Firefly Decline? Who Would Have Guessed?
Firefly Decline.? I discovered an article in my Facebook feed and was shocked. First of all as a kid I enjoyed an evening light show when visiting relatives lucky enough to live in the country. Now, I live on my own sprawling 100 acres and I enjoy a nightly show of bioluminescent fireflies every night from May until early August.
Charm of Fireflies
Children love fireflies. Catching them and putting them in mason jars to make a firefly lantern is a summer right of passage. I needed to write this post when I discovered firefly populations in North America seem to be dwindling in numbers.
“A dark night, lightened up by thousands of glowing fireflies… It’s magical…” ― Ama H. Vanniarachchy
Reasons Firefly Numbers May Be in Decline
The larva of fireflies live in rotting wood and forest litter. The larva eat mainly snails and worms which are plentiful in this habitat. Fireflies love warm, humid areas near standing water and their preferred habitat is in open fields and forests near ponds, rivers and streams. Anything that disrupts those features jeopardizes firefly populations.
- Human development has resulted in the paving over of open fields and forests eliminating their habitat.
- Waterways have become more developed with more noisy boat traffic which tends to drive them away.
- Logging has reduced forest habitat.
- Pesticides along with the above factors destroy habitat and kill prey of fireflies.
- Too much light at night is disruptive to adult fireflies in particular. The adults use flashing lights to communicate with the opposite sex. Some groups synchronize their flashes and all species have their own language of light. The pulses and patterns are specific to each species and are used to attract mates, defend territory and warn off predators. It has been noted by researchers that after a car’s headlights pass by, the flash patterns of fireflies fall out of sync for a few minutes. They don’t find mates as readily and less larva are born the next season.
How We Can Make a Difference for the Fate of Fireflies
We can make our homes more firefly friendly.
- Turn out your lights at night. You’ll see the bugs better and the fireflies will not have their language of light thrown off.
- Cut your grass less or let a patch grow longer.
- Leave trees and bushes standing where possible.
- If you have a stand of trees, let fallen trees and leaf litter remain as habitat for the larva and their prey.
- Don’t use pesticides on your property.
- Participate in Firefly Watch. The Museum of Science in Boston runs this program in partnership with researchers at Tufts University and Fitchburg State University. It has run for 9 years, 2016 being the last of its 10-year run. Volunteers, like you dear reader, upload facts to the website. Scientists use your information to research population trends in these fascinating bugs.
Here's hoping that fireflies continue to charm us, our children and generations to come. Click To Tweet Check out the Firefly Watch website. Watch your yard for fireflies, in the dark. Make some changes to your landscaping to attract more of these glowing bugs. Hopefully you and your kids will be able to enjoy the language of light from hundreds of these beautiful insects.
Other Species in Decline
Fireflies are not the only species in decline. We first moved to our farm in the Oak Ridges Moraine 15 years ago and the barn swallows were a force of nature. They returned without fail each spring and delighted me by dive-bombing my lawn mower, seeking out bugs frightened into the air. It is worthy to note barn swallows are at an all time low this year — a sign of climate change? Or just as troubling, humanity damaging their habitats? I don’t feel the tickle of their feathers because they no longer swoop so close to my head searching for an easy meal. You can read more about Barn Swallow decline here.