Fireflies may be Nature’s most magical animals. You can be walking down a street at night, or sitting on your porch, or camping out, and there they are, flitting about right next to you, blinking on and off like tiny fairies. But they’re not fairies – they’re fascinating and vulnerable insects that play an important role in the web of life while reminding us that Nature is a special place.
Sadly, firefly populations are quickly shrinking. Some companies actually pay people to capture thousands of these animals so they can harvest the chemicals in fireflies that produce their light, even though the same chemicals, called luciferase or luciferin, can be made in a laboratory synthetically. Urban and suburban development destroys the places where fireflies live and breed. Light pollution also disorients fireflies, making it difficult for them to reproduce over time.
Here’s how you can help keep Nature’s little light bulbs shining bright:
* Don’t capture fireflies! Fireflies are very easy to capture because they fly so slowly, and they usually hover within range of an eager hand. Resist the urge to grab them. And whatever you do, don’t try to capture them to ship them off for research. The research kills them in the end, which is totally unnecessary.
* Turn off outside lights at night. Fireflies flash their lights to signal to each other, attract mates, and warn when they sense danger. Artificial light could throw off their sense of where to flash when. Turn off porch and yard lights, and draw your blinds at night to darken your landscape.
* Let logs and organic litter accumulate. Some fireflies lay their larva in rotten logs and the organic matter that builds up under trees and bushes. If you’ve got the space, leave sections of logs or thick branches on the ground where they can host fireflies as they decay.
* Set up a fountain, bird bath, or pond. Most fireflies thrive around water and marshy areas. While you don’t want standing water that will attract mosquitoes, a gently moving fountain or a bird bath or pond could help a lot. Plus, you’ll attract bees, birds and butterflies, as well.
* Garden organically. Fireflies and their larvae can ingest poison from plants that have been sprayed with toxic chemicals. They may also eat other insects that are contaminated. Organic gardens will breed healthy fireflies!
* Use natural fertilizers. Like pesticides, fertilizers that contain toxic chemicals may fell fireflies. Use organic compost below bushes and trees and in garden and flower beds. Fertilize lawns with a very slow releasing product and the minimum amount needed to grow a healthy lawn without posing a threat to wildlife.
* Let your lawn grow a little longer. Fireflies stay mainly on the ground during the day, so mowing the lawn short and frequently can disrupt their life cycle. Let your lawn grow a little longer between mowings, or convert a part of your lawn to taller grasses that will be both beautiful and beneficial.
* Plant trees. Fireflies do best in pine and native trees and in the litter (pine needles, bark pieces) that fall onto the ground below their canopy.
* Create a firefly friendly community. As much as you do around your own home, you can magnify the benefits to fireflies by getting others in your neighborhood to do the same thing. Invite your neighbors to a firefly party – no flashlights allowed! – to enjoy these special creatures and talk about how, together, you’ll do your part to keep them blinking.
You can get more information from Firefly.org.