Fireflies in decline as natural habitats are destroyed
The little blinking lights of fireflies are getting harder and harder to see lately.
Urban delvelopment, pollution and artificial lights are all causing the numbers of the tiny insects to decline at a rapid rate, and the days of sitting outside in the summertime, while watching fireflies dance around your head, are definitely numbered.
At a conference in the Thai city of Chiang Mai, 100 entomologists and biologists discussed the plight of the firefly, which – anecdotal evidence suggests – is disappearing from habitats as diverse as gardens in Tennessee and river-banks in southeast Asia.
In Bam Lomtuan, for instance, an hour outside Bangkok, the insects were once a tourist attraction, with thousands setting the banks of the Mae Klong River aglow with natural illumination.
Preecha Jiabyu, who used to row tourists out to see them, said that nowadays only the lights of hotels, restaurants and roads were visible. To see trees lit with the creatures so abundant in his youth, he had to row two miles out of town.
“The firefly populations have dropped 70 per cent in the past three years,” Mr Preecha told the Associated Press. “It’s sad. They were a symbol of our city.”
Researchers in Europe and the US believe urban sprawl and industrial pollution have destroyed the habitat of fireflies or glow worms. The spread of artificial lights may also be a factor, disrupting mating behaviour.
“It is clear they are declining,” said Stefan Ineichen, a delegate at last week’s symposium. Mr Ineichen, who studies fireflies in Switzerland, said: “When you talk to old people about fireflies, it is always the same. They saw so many when they were young, now they are lucky to see one.”
Evidence is of course difficult to gather, as they are tiny, constantly moving insects, and there are few programmes to monitor their behaviour. The adult lifespan of the fly is also only three weeks.
There are currently about 2,000 species of the fly, and new ones are being discovered, but the numebers are definitely down. Scientists are asking for volunteers to help monitor them when they are found in their own back yards.