FunNature & AnimalFireflies face extinction

Fireflies face extinction

(Production Ramiro Angulo)


Fireflies ( Lampyridae) , those worldwide glow-in-the-dark insects that have an important role to play in their local ecosystems (as pollinators, predators or prey), are in danger of extinction due to three threats: habitat loss, pesticide use and, surprisingly, artificial light, according to a team of biologists led by Tufts University in Massachusetts (USA) together with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ).

The new study, in which 49 firefly experts from around the world have participated and which has been published in the journal Bioscience , highlights that of the more than 2,000 species of fireflies that exist on the planet, many species are fighting to extinction, which would lead to one of nature’s most fascinating spectacles, seeing the glow of fireflies at night, disappear.


What species are in danger?

According to Sara Lewis, a biologist at Tufts University and lead author of the work, the Malayan firefly, the glowworms of southern England, the synchronous fireflies of Malaysia, or the blue ghost of Appalachia, all of them very striking firefly species. for tourists, they are becoming extinct because of humanity’s increasing ecological footprint.

“Some species are especially affected by habitat loss because they need specific conditions to complete their life cycle,” Lewis clarified.

Others, like the eastern firefly (the most common in North America) are proliferating, but basically because these insects can survive almost anywhere.


Habitat loss is the biggest threat, but not the only one

A surprising finding of the study was that light pollution was considered, globally, the second most serious threat to fireflies. Artificial light can disrupt the natural wake-sleep cycle for all types of organisms (including us humans). What impact do they have on fireflies? For them, light interferes with their courtship ritual, as males rely on their bioluminescence to woo potential mates and females respond with flashes to show that they are in the mood for marriage, but this ceremony is hampered by LED lights. ultra-bright that do not stop, either from streetlights, billboards or from the houses themselves; more diffuse lighting that extends beyond cities and can be brighter than a full moon.

The study noted that, being conservative, more than 23% of the planet’s land surface currently experiences some degree of artificial brightness at night.

So much light not only interferes with their mating signals, it also disrupts the feeding patterns of the females of some species that glow to attract and eat males.

The danger of “firefly tourism”

Places like Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia have been and are destinations that offer as a recreational activity the observation of the lights of some species of fireflies. However, because it has become an increasingly popular exercise, it is also affecting the number of fireflies: trampled flightless fireflies, motorboats that erode and destroy habitat …

Silent apocalypse among insects

These are tough times for fireflies (and insects, in general). While climate change is not considered a current threat, future sea level rise and drought could also hasten its demise. Clearly, more monitoring studies, with long-term data, are needed to understand the extent to which firefly populations are declining, as most of the scientific evidence on firefly numbers is anecdotal, experts say.

“Our goal with this study is to make this knowledge available to land managers, policy makers, and firefly enthusiasts everywhere. We want to keep fireflies lighting our nights for a long, long time, ” concludes Sonny. Wong, a co-author of the study.

Firefly experts encourage everyone to join monitoring groups like Firefly Watch , a citizen science project run by the NGO Massachusetts Audubon Society, to help with the task.

Referencia: Lewis, S.M., Wong, C.H., Owens, A.C.S., Fallon, C., Jepsen, S., Thancharoen, A., Wu, C., De Cock, R., Novák, M., López-Palafox, T., Khoo, V., and Reed, J.M. “A Global Perspective on Firefly Extinction Threats” Bioscience (3 February 2020); DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biz157

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