Fireflies: Jewels of the night
Spotting a firefly on a warm summer night is a magical sight. While they’re only the size of a paperclip, their small flashing bodies quickly catch your eye – a reason why they’re also called lightning bugs.
Fireflies aren’t actually flies, but a type of beetle. If you’ve ever wondered how to tell if an insect with the word fly in its name is actually a fly, use this tip. When the word fly and the descriptive word are stuck together such as firefly, mayfly and dragonfly, these insects are not actually flies. When there’s a space between the descriptive word and the word fly such as hover fly, horse fly and house fly, the insects are true flies.
Firefly populations are declining in North America. This decline is believed to be largely due to wetland habitat loss and light pollution. Most firefly larvae depend on moist habitats near wetlands, streams, and ponds. It’s in these areas where fireflies find their food, including slugs, snails and other soft-bodied invertebrates. Light pollution affects a firefly’s ability to find mates. Their characteristic flashing light patterns are easily disrupted by manmade light at night.
Unfortunately, fireflies in Canada are not very well studied. They’re hard to identify and not commonly collected or reported on, so we don’t know enough about any of the 23 species of fireflies in Ontario to determine their populations trends. As a result, we’re unable to identify which species may be of conservation concern.
You can help collect data on fireflies with Firefly Watch. This citizen science project aims to fill the gaps in firefly data in North America. Participants look for fireflies for 10 minutes each week during firefly season. You don’t need to be able to say what species you’re seeing to submit your data to Firefly Watch, but they do ask you to identify how many different flash patterns you’re seeing.
The Xerces Society for Insect Conservation also recently launched a firefly conservation campaign, called Conserving the Jewels of the Night. Their website has great resources on fireflies, including information on their biology, threats they face, conservation efforts and how you can help.
Have you ever spent a summer night watching fireflies? If not, now’s the time. Firefly season peaks in July in Ontario. Don’t forget to take pictures and share them with us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Learn more about insects in the Credit River Watershed here.
By CVC’s Kimberley Laird, Subject Expert: Laura Timms