One of the best parts of summer is watching fireflies light up the night. But have you noticed how there seem to be fewer fireflies every summer? What is causing this? Why are fireflies going extinct? And is there anything you can do to slow this decline? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more!
What You'll Learn Today
Are Fireflies Endangered?
Fireflies are not technically considered endangered. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that their numbers are declining, but very little scientific data to back up those claims.
There are over 2,000 species of fireflies found throughout the world, and it is believed that many of their populations are declining. A 2021 study that evaluated 128 of those species found that roughly 11 percent were threatened with extinction.
However, 33 percent were considered “of least concern” by IUCN standards. And even those considered threatened are not classified as endangered–again, an accumulation of data is lacking.
Scientists are beginning to study this conundrum more than they have in the past, however. They are beginning to gather evidence, hoping to find out whether there is enough data to back up the anecdotal claims that fireflies are gradually going extinct.
In the meantime, many people feel that they are seeing fewer and fewer fireflies each summer.
Why Are Fireflies Going Extinct?
If fireflies really are disappearing, what could be the reason for this? What factors are causing their decline?
There may be several reasons for why we aren’t seeing as many fireflies as we once did. Those reasons include:
- Habitat Loss: Most fireflies depend on undisturbed wetland areas, such as the banks of streams and ponds, to lay their eggs. The larvae grow up in these environments, and the adult fireflies tend to stay close to these areas throughout their short lifespans. However, increased human activities, such as urban expansion and construction, are disturbing more and more of these natural habitats. There’s a good chance fewer eggs are being laid, and fewer larvae are reaching adulthood, due to loss of habitat.
- Pesticide Use: Many pesticides kill all insects without discriminating between the beneficial ones and the pests. These pesticides are applied continuously and over large areas, destroying all insect life in their path. These pesticides are extremely harmful to fireflies, especially the ones applied at dusk in order to affect mosquitoes. Since fireflies are most active at this time of day, they are caught in the crossfire and killed as readily as the mosquitoes are.
- Climate Change: Overall changes in climate can also affect firefly populations. For example, areas that were once wet may dry up and become more arid, or copious amounts of rain can cause flooding; both of these occurrences can wipe out firefly populations in localized areas.
- Artificial Lighting: This may be one of the most underrated but devastating factors of firefly population declines. Many fireflies communicate with each other, find mates, and warn off predators using their lights.
Artificial lighting from streetlights, car headlights, and other sources causes a lot of light pollution, which in turn seems to interfere with the natural lights of the fireflies. If they are unable to communicate via their lights, many species will be unable to find mates, which in turn will result in fewer eggs being laid and smaller firefly populations the following summer.
Check out this video to learn more about the threats fireflies are facing:
What Can We Do?
If you are worried about seeing fewer and fewer fireflies each summer, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to help them out. There are a few steps you can take to turn your yard into a safe haven for fireflies:
- Encourage Their Habitat: If you have a pond, creek, or water garden on your property, try to attract local wildlife to the area. Plant various ground covers around your yard that will help hold the moisture in the soil and encourage insect life.
You may even want to add snails and slugs to the area, as these are the primary food sources of fireflies. If you turn your yard into a natural habitat for fireflies, they will begin to establish healthy populations that will thrive year after year.
- Turn the Lights Out: Turn off porch lights and avoid using other forms of artificial outdoor lighting. The darker it is in your yard, the better fireflies will be able to communicate with each other, which in turn will lead to increases in reproduction.
- Avoid Use of Chemicals: Do not use pesticides or insecticides. If you absolutely must use them to rid your property of certain pest insects, make sure you select a kind that states it is safe for fireflies.
- Leave Them Alone: If you see fireflies on your property, enjoy them from a distance. Do not attempt to capture them, as you may end up hurting or killing them.
Fireflies are one of the most iconic symbols of summer in many parts of the world, but their numbers are declining thanks to factors such as habitat loss, light pollution from artificial lighting, and pesticide use.
If you want to do something to preserve the fireflies in your area, avoid using pesticides, limit your use of artificial lights, and make your yard or property a haven where they can safely live and reproduce.