Animals

Fireflies Might Be Headed Toward Extinction

Here's how you can help.

There’s a good chance that catching fireflies is in your bank of fond childhood memories. Unfortunately, the odds that your grandchildren might enjoy the same activity are not as high.

Researchers report that fireflies and glowworms are in decline, and they’ve pinpointed several significant threats to the bright little bugs. Fortunately, scientists also have recommendations for actions we can take that could potentially bring fireflies back from the brink of extinction.

Breaking Down The Threats

With help from the Tufts University Department of Biology, researchers with the Firefly Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission conducted a global survey of firefly experts in 2019. The survey results uncovered three significant threats to fireflies, as well as a handful of dangers that have causes fireflies to dwindle in number.

Sadly, most of these hazards are caused by humans.

The top risks to fireflies include habitat loss, which is the most severe threat to fireflies globally, artificial light at night and pesticide use.

Other potential dangers include water pollution, tourism, overharvesting, invasive species and climate change.

Adobe | Ivan Kuzmin

Fireflies have lost much of their natural habitat due to urbanization, industrialization and agricultural intensification. This includes the increased use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Artificial light at night, meanwhile — from sources such as streetlights, commercial signage and even gas flares at chemical plants — interferes with firefly courtship signals, as the insects rely on bioluminescent courtship signals to find mates.

And high concentrations of common broad-spectrum agricultural insecticides in water and soil are especially harmful to fireflies in the larval stage.

Taking Action

Conservationists are working toward identifying and preserving areas that support firefly populations, as well as establishing sanctuaries to protect them.

In addition, there are ongoing studies that are being conducted with the intention of developing lighting recommendations that would reduce artificial light, a move that has the potential to benefit a wide range of nocturnal creatures.

The research also shows that minimizing the use of insecticides in residential lawns and gardens could be quite helpful. Not only are these chemicals harmful to firefly larva, which often spend months to years living underground or underwater, but pesticides also reduce the insect’s food supply.

For more tips on what you can do to help, read these seven suggestions for saving the fireflies.