Many of us have cherished memories of spotting and catching them during warm summer evenings and running through fields that sparkled as if strewn with stars. Children today can no longer watch the awe of hundreds of adult fireflies and lightening bugs dancing in the dark or catch them in a jar to make their own lantern as their grandparents did. They no longer add fascination to a summer evening by following the little fairy lanterns into fairyland. Fireflies are fascinating creatures that light up our nights and bring a sense of magic and mystery to our environment.
Also known as lightning bugs, fireflies are neither bugs nor flies; they are actually beetles, which have two pairs of wings. There are 130 species of lightening bugs in this country. The colors of their lights vary and each species has its own pattern of light flashing, which is controlled by the nervous system. The females of some species do not have wings but she, the larvae and eggs glow in the dark. Those adult lightning bugs you’re watching only live two to three weeks before dying. The lightening bug has not revealed its secret method of creating cold light and that baffles scientist. In the larvae stage, they are beneficial meat eaters largely dining on slugs and snails.
Why are fireflies disappearing? Nobody knows for sure. But most researchers blame three main factors: Increased chemical use, development and light pollution. With the increased use of chemicals, have we contaminated the firefly habitat and natural prey making it unfit for their survival? Scientists don’t know enough about fireflies to tell for sure, but the signs indicate that light pollution as a major factor in the disappearance of fireflies all over the world. Human light pollution is believed to interrupt firefly flash patterns. Scientists have observed that fireflies get out of synch for a few minutes after a car’s headlights pass. Light from homes, cars, stores, and street lights may all make it difficult for fireflies to signal each other during mating—meaning fewer firefly larvae are born next season.
If they disappear, it will be a great loss to habitats and generations of people all over the world. And if it continues, fireflies may fade forever, leaving our summer nights a little darker and less magical.
You can become a firefly watcher by going to http://www.nwf.org.
If you catch fireflies follow the below instructions on how to handle them. Don’t touch fireflies if you have insect repellent on your hands. Use a net, if available. If you put lightning bugs in a jar, include a piece of moist paper towel to keep the container humid; fireflies are susceptible to drying out. Let fireflies go as soon as you’ve gotten a good look so they can get back to the business of locating mates.