Habitat loss is the most critical threat to firefly survival in most geographic regions.
Habitat loss, pesticide use, and surprisingly artificial light are the three most serious threats that endanger fireflies worldwide.
These factors have raised the extinction spectrum for certain species and related impacts on biodiversity and ecotourism, according to a team of biologists led by Tufts University.
Fireflies belong to a large and economically important group of insects, with more than 2,000 different species spread throughout the world.
To better understand what threats fireflies face, the team led by Sara Lewis, professor of biology at Tufts University, associated with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, surveyed firefly experts from around the world to assess the threats. most important for the survival of their local species.
His perspective article, published this Monday in the journal ‘Bioscience’, warns about the future of these insects, highlighting specific threats and the vulnerability of different species in geographic regions.
According to respondents, habitat loss is the most critical threat to firefly survival in most geographic regions, followed by light pollution and pesticide use.
“Many wildlife species are declining because their habitat is shrinking,” says Lewis, “so it was not a big surprise that habitat loss was considered the greatest threat. Some fireflies are especially threatened when their habitat disappears because they need special conditions to complete its life cycle. For example, a Malaysian firefly (Pteroptyx tener), famous for its synchronized flash displays, is a specialist in mangroves. “
Previous work revealed drastic declines in this species after the conversion of its mangrove habitat to palm oil plantations and aquaculture farms. A surprising result that emerged from the survey was that, globally, light pollution was considered the second most serious threat to fireflies.
Artificial light at night has grown exponentially over the past century. “In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms, including human biorhythms, light pollution really ruins the mating rituals of fireflies,” explains Avalon Owens, a Ph.D. candidate in Biology at Tufts and a co-author of the study.
Many fireflies rely on bioluminescence to find and attract mates, and previous work has shown that too much artificial light can interfere with these courtship exchanges. Switching to overly bright and energy-efficient LEDs doesn’t help. “Brighter is not necessarily better,” says Owens.
Firefly experts saw the widespread agricultural use of pesticides as another key threat to firefly survival.
Most insecticide exposure occurs during the larval stages because juvenile fireflies spend up to two years living underground or underwater.
Insecticides like organophosphates and neonicotinoids are designed to kill pests, but they also have off-target effects on beneficial insects. While more research is needed, evidence shows that many commonly used insecticides are harmful to fireflies.
Some studies have quantified the decline in firefly populations, such as those seen in Malaysia’s synchronous fireflies that attract tourists, and the ‘Lampyris noctiluca’ firefly in England.
And numerous anecdotal reports suggest that many other firefly species in a wide range of habitats have also suffered recent declines. “However,” Lewis notes, “We really need better long-term data on firefly population trends – this is one place where citizen science efforts like Massachusetts Audubon’s Firefly Watch project can really help.”
The researchers also highlight risk factors that allow them to predict which species will be most vulnerable when faced with threats such as habitat loss or light pollution.
Regardless, researchers remain optimistic about the future of fireflies. “Here in the United States, we are lucky to have some robust species like Photinus pyralis,” Lewis says. “Those guys can survive pretty much anywhere, and they’re beautiful too.”
By showing these threats and assessing the conservation status of firefly species around the world, the researchers aim to preserve the magical lights of fireflies for the enjoyment of future generations.
“Our goal is to make this knowledge available to land managers, policymakers, and firefly fanatics everywhere,” said co-author Sonny Wong of the Malaysian Nature Society. keep fireflies lighting up our nights for a long, long time. “
The Sanctuary of the Fireflies in Tlaxcala
Between the months of June and August, in Tlaxcala, it is possible to appreciate a spectacle of light and magic, thanks to the species known as Luciérnagas, which arrive in the forests of this state in search of food and the need to reproduce.
These bright little animals visit the municipalities of Nanacamilpa and Españita every summer, but it is precisely in Nanacamilpa, very close to the city of Tlaxcala, where the El Santuario de las Luciérnagas is located, a place conducive to its wooded and humid conditions.
Fireflies or Light bugs are a species of the Lampyridae family that are characterized by their ability to emit light. When they are in mating season, the females emit flashes of light that attract the males that fly over them to mate. Days later, the female deposits the fertilized eggs in the bark of the trees and these hatch for 3 or 4 weeks until the larvae hatch; and within 7 to 20 days they will become adults.
Groups of people who arrive at the place are given access to the forest from 7:00 p.m. by one of its four ecotourism centers, and it is from 8:30 p.m., for a period of 1 hour, that they have allowed to admire the spectacle to see how the female fireflies light up to attract the males.
The postcard that offers the bioluminescence of these animals, together with the brightness of the stars, is simply magical.
If weather conditions allow it, for example rain, you will have the opportunity to spend a spectacular time, in the middle of the forest, without artificial light (since you cannot even turn on a flashlight), on a floor that could be muddy and slippery ; and in a moment, without thinking, you will find yourself in the middle of countless bright dots flying around you.
There are several tour operators around the town that offer the tour, where they can also offer a place to camp or ride a horse.
It is recommended to follow the guide’s instructions, walk only on the trails set up for the tour, go well sheltered, as well as avoid cameras, pets, music devices, alcoholic beverages, lamps, among others, that could affect the natural conditions of the place.
Access costs to the sanctuary range from $ 50 to $ 150 per person.