Fireflies are spectacular magical insects which light up the dark night with their shimmering bodies. Fireflies, most beloved and admired beetles, have a special place in human cultures and civilizations. They symbolize illumination; teaching that the light within is the power of life. As they dance melodically through the sky to their own music, they whisper to us to ignite the passion of our inner fire.
Myths and stories related to fireflies are almost found in every culture. In Japan, these beloved species are called “Hotaru,” – a metaphor for passionate love in poetry since Man’you-shu (the 8th-century anthology). Their eerie lights are also believed to be disguised souls of soldiers who have died in the war. Likewise, fireflies appear in myriad of Native American folklore.
Fireflies are neither flies nor bugs; they are beetles, and there are around 2,000 species on our planet. They belong to the family Lampyridae and are most beloved insect, that fascinates all night wanderer around the globe. Numerous species of fireflies are diurnal and non-luminescent, but the most commonly known fireflies are nocturnal which remain in shadowy areas and produce light. Furthermore, we can also find variations within their body features such as colour, shape, size and antenna.
Fireflies tourism has been a long-established recreational activity in places like Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia, where they love to watch the spectacular light displays put on by some fireflies. This is now becoming more popular and widespread – attracting many visitors – impacting firefly numbers as a result.
Fireflies are charismatic and even easily spottable by a non-expert; thus, providing an excellent flagship species to attract public attention. They can also be used as an investigation model to study the effects of light on nocturnal wildlife. Moreover, due to their elevated sensibility and response to the changing environmental gradients, fireflies are good bioindicators for artificial night lighting.
But scientists say these magical display creatures are under threat. A November 2019 study warned that 41 percent of insects are threatened with extinction, which could lead to an “Insect Apocalypse” with severe consequences for humans and other life on Earth. The plight of fireflies across the insect class is a no exception to this; the loss of natural habitats, pesticide use and artificial light, are leading some of the fireflies species at risk of extinction. Further, numerous anecdotal reports suggest that many other species across a wide range of habitats have suffered recent declines.
“Lots of wildlife species are declining because their habitat is shrinking, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that habitat loss was considered the biggest threat. Some fireflies get hit especially hard when their habitat disappears because they need special conditions to complete their life cycle,” said the study’s lead author Sara Lewis, Professor at Tufts University in the US.
In spite of requiring detailed attention for future conservation work, the studies regarding fireflies are limited. Many of the roving fireflies, such as Pteroptyx, remain uninvestigated and unnamed. We still lack information on the number of genus and species that may be threatened by rapid development and require immediate attention.
By illuminating these threats and evaluating the conservation status of firefly species around the world, researchers can preserve the magical lights of fireflies for future generations to enjoy.
Written by Sajjan Regmi, a Forestry student and Conservationist residing in Hetauda.
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