Light Up Your Backyard with Firefly Conservation

Firefly | Suzanne Tucker

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

-Robert Frost, Fireflies in the Garden

When the heat of the summer puts its chokehold on the South, and the last shreds of daylight linger in the air, I take my seat among the oak trees and the poplars, for the show is about to start. I see a light for a brief second: moving, my civilized brain sees it first as the headlights of a car but my logical mind quickly corrects my lapse of realistic reason. Then I see another. And another. The lightning bugs have begun their nocturnal dance, lighting up the spaces between the blades of grass and leaves, bushes and tree trunks.

One of the wonders of summer is the light show that happens every night all over the world. I’m not talking about the stars, but about Photuris lucicrescens, more commonly known as fireflies, or lightning bugs. These beetles can be seen in the summertime as evening turns to night. Chemicals in their abdomens produce a cold light, with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies, which can be yellow, green, or red.

Fireflies use this remarkable example of bioluminescence as a form of communication. They use it to attract mates, to ward off predators and lure prey, and to defend their territory. The illuminating world of fireflies, however, is in danger. It’s up to us to save them.

The populations around the world of fireflies have gone down significantly in recent years. Scientists speculate light pollution and encroaching development as potential causes. They have put out a call to arms to save the fireflies, so we can continue to appreciate their twinkling magic each and every summer night.

What can you do to save the fireflies?

There are several things you can do, and they all revolve around the same idea: make sure there are plenty of firefly-friendly places around for them to live in. This means:

  • keeping natural wooded areas natural [and wooded],
  • maintaining some areas with longer grass for the fireflies to frolic in,
  • plant trees, and
  • don’t be in such a hurry to rake up fallen leaves.

If you have the opportunity to put in a water feature on your property, fireflies do well around ponds and other wet areas. Avoid using chemicals on your lawn and in your garden at all costs. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers can be fatal for insects – including bees and should be avoided as a general rule.

To combat the light pollution that is interfering with firefly communication and reducing the population, keep your use of outdoor lights to a minimum at night. Close curtains at night to keep the light from your home from leaking out and confusing the fireflies.

If we are not careful, the fireflies will disappear for good. So let’s all do our part to keep them around, emulating the stars, just a little longer.

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