National Park Warns that Some Firefly Species are Near Extinction – Here are Easy Ways to Help Our Lightning Bug Buddies
Lighting Up Childhood One Bug Butt at a Time
I was sitting outside in my backyard the other night when a tiny green light popped up near the grass and then disappeared. And a few moments later, it happened again. And this green light kept showing up all over my yard. It was like my own private light show, and it was awesome. Of course, it was a group of lightning bugs, and if you’re like me, anytime you see these tiny creatures, it brings about a lot of great childhood memories. Thoughts of campouts and bonfires and hanging out with family and friends when school was out for the summer and trying to catch them in a mason jar or with my bare hands – catch and release style, of course.
There’s something very nostalgic and fun about seeing a group of fireflies show off their skills at night. My favorite thing about fireflies is getting to check them out with my family because it usually means that 1) we’re off our devices, and 2) we’re just having fun being together.
Fireflies Could Become Extinct
I was a bit surprised to learn recently that fireflies could soon be a thing of the past. Congaree National Park recently posted a warning about fireflies.
This time of year, we often hear folks say: 'I used to see them in my backyard as a kid, we would go around collecting them in jars, and sadly I don't see many in my neighborhood anymore.' Cultures around the world have taken part in harvesting fireflies for many reasons: to give away as wedding gifts, to be released for public displays and to harvest their light producing enzyme. Well, unfortunately collecting and harvesting fireflies has led to some firefly species becoming nearly extinct. The firefly population at Congaree has a safe place to thrive and survive, but on land that isn't protected, habitat destruction, pesticide use, light pollution, and mass harvesting is causing their population to decline.
Easy Things You Can Do To Save Our Firefly Friends
If you would like to create a more approachable space for these busy beetles in your backyard, let’s talk about a few easy things we can all do to improve the conditions for them to thrive:
Turn off the Lights
Any kind of light source is a surefire disruptor of the lightning bug’s natural lighting pattern. So, turn off the back porch light, or draw the shades in the house to keep the indoor light source from leaking out. Make it as dark as possible for the lightning bugs to be able to work their little green magic.
Create a Habitat
Creating a safe habitat for fireflies to thrive in is an essential part of their growing process. It’s not that much different from us. We live better in certain environments and so do they. There are plenty of resources online that can give practical tips for creating a more inviting living space for fireflies. A good one is Firefly.org. The site tells us to, “Let log and leaf litter accumulate. Segment an area of your land/yard to remain in a natural state,“ and we’re also advised to ”introduce nutrients such as bag compost, leaves, and organic matter“ to our yards if we have poor soil.
Don't Use Pesticides (Or at Least Use a Firefly Friendly One)
According to gardensalive.com, both pesticides and chemical fertilizers are wreaking havoc on the firefly population. They suggest using natural fertilizers like compost and manure and opt for pesticides that don't harm fireflies or their larve. They explain, "Species specific organic pest controllers like BTK (which only works against pest caterpillars) and BTI (which only prevents mosquitoes and other biting flies from breeding) are 100% firefly safe; as are insecticidal soap and oil sprays, as these two controls only work when you can see and soak the pest. Just don't spray any lightning bugs!"
Oh yeah, and don’t over-mow the lawn, as lightning bugs love to live in long grasses. Consider sectioning off a spot that you keep a little longer than others for this purpose.
Make Sure Your Kids are Gentle and Always Release
So now that you’ve dusted off the welcome mat and invited more of these bugs into your yard, what are you supposed to do? Well, catch them, of course! There are safe ways of doing this. We want to be as easy as we can with them, so use a net if you have one. Oh, and work together here. Someone gets to use the net, and someone holds the jar. Place the lightning bugs in the jar and make sure you pierce a hole in the lid to let in some air. Firefly.org also says to “place a moistened paper towel or preferably a damp unbleached coffee filter inside to keep the air in the jar humid.“ Make sure you release them, preferably at night, so you can continue to enjoy them in your yard.
Now, that should be enough information to get us all started with helping our lightning bug buddies while also giving us some new memories to make with our families and friends. So, get your yard ready and be on the lookout for your next lightning bug show!