Where Did All the Lightning Bugs Go?

Why firefly populations are dwindling and what you can do about it.

Many of us can recall memories of warm summer nights, chasing fireflies around the yard and collecting them in glass jars. However, you may have noticed that the number of flying, blinking beetles roaming your backyard in recent years has decreased. The reason why? Well, it's complicated.

Fireflies, along with many other nocturnal species, are the most active at night, and they use their blinking lights to find mates and ward off predators. While it may seem obvious, the insects need darkness in order for them to perform these basic functions. Now, with an increase in artificial light sources (also known as "light pollution") there are few places that are truly dark at night, which is harming the species by making it impossible from them to reproduce.

Other factors, including habitat loss and pesticide use, are also to blame for the declining numbers of fireflies. Many scientific studies have taken place over the past several years, and researchers are bringing attention to the issue. One of those researchers, Ben Pfeiffer, founded Firefly.org , a non-profit organization dedicated to finding out more about the disappearing population of fireflies.

"It's worrying," Pfeiffer said in an interview with TakePart . "When people see a habitat that's got three, four, five different species of firefly flashing, each with a different flash pattern, it's an amazing thing. It changes their lives, but few people get to see that anymore."

While fireflies don't have as big a job as bees do to protect our environment, they do help by pollinating milkweed, goldenrod and other flower species. The insects also contribute to medical efforts, where their bioluminescent enzymes are used to help track the growth of cancer tumors and to detect bacteria in food products.

"Nature is capable of producing some really amazing things, and those things are disappearing."

Even though some species of fireflies are declining, there's no need to panic just yet. Pfeiffer says that he doubts we'll lose all fireflies anytime soon.

Luckily, there are ways that you can help fireflies in your area. Here are a few recommendations for updates you can make in your home:

  • Swap bright light bulbs for dim red bulbs, which fireflies are less able to see
  • Limit outdoor illumination to desired areas such as sidewalks or pathways
  • Place landscape lighting low to the ground to reduce the lit area
  • Use motion-detection and/or automatic timers so lights are on only as needed
  • Limit the number of hours per day that lights are kept on.
  • Close your curtains or blinds at night when interior lights are on in order to reduce the amount of light that shines outside of your windows.

You can also start a local chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association to advocate for legal policies to control light pollution.

You can donate to Firefly.org's conservation efforts by vising the donate page on their website .

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