Scientists are researching reports coming in from around the world that firefly populations are rapidly dwindling. The villains again appear to be urban sprawl and industrial pollution.
Researchers in the US and Europe are speculating that the spread of artificial lighting could be contributing to the demise of the little glowing creatures also known as lightning bugs. It’s possible the lights are interfering with firefly mating practices, where the male attracts a female by lighting up his backside. In Thailand, more than 100 entomologists and biologists convened last week to address the estimated decline of firefly populations there by about 70 percent.
“It’s quite clear they’re declining,” says Stefan Ineichen, a researcher who studies fireflies in Switzerland. “When you talk to old people about fireflies, it’s always the same – they saw so many when they were young and now they’re lucky to see one.”
Another researcher, Lynn Faust, who has spent a decade studying fireflies on her 40-acre Tennessee farm, says, “I know of populations that have disappeared on my farm because of development and light pollution. It’s these McMansions with their floodlights. One house here has 32 lights. Why do you need so many lights?”
Studying firefly populations is difficult because the bugs can’t be banded or marked, but scientists are calling upon volunteers to help track firefly populations.
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Painting of fireflies by Robin Street-Morris.