It sure seems as if there are fewer fireflies lighting up our backyards. ¶ "While we don't have the actual numbers to make a comparison between now and 20 years ago, I think everyone really agrees - even though it's rather subjective - that there appear to be a whole lot less fireflies now as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago," said Marc Branham, an entomologist at the University of Florida and one of a few firefly researchers in the United States.
It sure seems as if there are fewer fireflies lighting up our backyards.
"While we don't have the actual numbers to make a comparison between now and 20 years ago, I think everyone really agrees - even though it's rather subjective - that there appear to be a whole lot less fireflies now as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago," said Marc Branham, an entomologist at the University of Florida and one of a few firefly researchers in the United States.
"I think it's real," said Branham, who received his doctorate from Ohio State University.At least 2,000 species of fireflies exist worldwide, including about 12 in Ohio. For the record, they aren't flies at all. They're beetles - members of the family Lampyridae, Greek for "shining ones."
Firefly populations have been on the decline in Ohio for years, according to national experts, mainly because of habitat loss and pesticide use. One thing that is bothersome to some species is - ironically - light.Light pollution can drown out their flashes, and research suggests that streetlights can confuse some species. Because the male signals for a mate, and females signal that they are willing, too much light can put a dent in populations.
The flashes, called bioluminescence, stem from a chemical reaction inside the insect. The colors, depending on the species, include blue, green, orange and yellow. These messages, coded in flashes of light, indicate species type and attributes such as age and health, all of which might make them more appealing.But in newer developments - such as new subdivisions with manicured lawns - lightning bug populations will go down but can recover, depending on the group of humans sharing space with them, experts say.
For example, homeowners who trim their hedges and mow their lawns less frequently can make life easier for the lightning bugs residing there.Firefly.org, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness about lightning bug population declines, has more tips for keeping the flashing lights in your yards.
• Don't use chemical fertilizers on your lawn or in your garden. Instead, try natural fertilizers.
• Add trees and shrubs to your landscape, and keep some leaves on the ground.
• Turn off your outdoor lights during firefly season. You might be tricking them into thinking it's still daylight out.
• Install a water feature. Ponds, streams and rivers are naturally good habitats for fireflies.
• Don't use pesticides. While some scientists aren't sure, most think it's likely that pesticides and weedkillers negatively affect firefly populations. Don Salvatore coordinates Firefly Watch, a scientific research group with the Museum of Science in Boston that for six years has enlisted "citizen scientists" in 40 states who record firefly sightings each summer.
Salvatore said populations can fluctuate dramatically year to year.
According to the project's website, volunteers near Pickerington recorded seeing no more than five fireflies on July 3. A volunteer in the same area last year reported seeing as many as 20.
But a volunteer near Dublin reported seeing more than 20 fireflies on July 6. Last year, a volunteer reported seeing one firefly one night in July.
"It goes up and down, up and down, up and up and down," Salvatore said.
The most common firefly in Ohio is P hotinus pyralis, known as the "Big Dipper firefly" for the "J" pattern it traces when it lights at night.
Parts of Ohio reported seeing large populations this summer.
Denise Ellsworth, an entomologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, said she has seen an abundance.
"It looks incredible," she said. "We definitely have enough for the kids to collect."
Branham said one of the most spectacular displays of fireflies occurs in Amish country in north-central Ohio, where electric lights are few.
David Shetlar, an Ohio State University entomologist, said Dublin seems to have plenty of fireflies."The shows are still pretty," Shetlar said. "I've not seen major reductions so far."