Notes 8: Lights Out for Fireflies

Darkening Summers
Keneagy (1993) reported on dwindling numbers of fireflies in Florida. The firefly emails appeared on a website maintained by Donald Ray Burger, an personal injury lawyer and firefly fan based in Houston, Texas. This site provides links to lots of useful firefly information; starting in 1996 Burger has been collecting and posting hundreds of reports he receives about firefly numbers from all over North America.

Keneagy, B. (1993, September 25). Lights out for firefly population. Orlando Sentinel.

Estimates of firefly declines in Thailand are from Casey (2008) and New Tang Dynasty TV’s news story about declining firefly populations along the Mae Klong River in Bam Lomtuan, southern Thailand.

Casey, M. (2008, August 30) Lights out? Experts fear fireflies are dwindling. USA Today.

New Tang Dynasty Television (2009, June 10). Fireflies’ spectacle coming to an end. [Video file].

Paved Paradise
Jim Lloyd’s quote about the absence of fireflies in Houston appeared in a news story by Grossman (2000).

Grossman, W. (2000, March 2). Fireflies are disappearing from the night sky. Houston Press..

Jushoh & Hashim (2012) describe how the loss of mangrove habitat has affected the Malaysian synchronous firefly, Pteroptyx tener, and Thancharoen (2012) discusses firefly tourism and conservation in Thailand.

Sonny Wong provides advice about good firefly-watching behavior on his blog about Malaysian fireflies: https://malaysianfireflies.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/firefly-watching-ethics/. His quote is from an interview with Sharmilla Ganesan (2010).

Ganesan, S. (2010, February 16). Keeping the lights on. The Star Online. .

Drowning in Light
David Owen (2007) wrote about the International Dark-Sky Association. Ineichen & Rüttimann (2012) describe how artificial light affects European glow-worms.

Owen, D. (2007, August 20) The dark side: Making war on light pollution. The New Yorker.

Rich & Longcore (2006) explore the ecological consequences of artificial illumination, including effects on nest choice and breeding success of birds to behavioral and physiological changes in salamanders. One chapter by Jim Lloyd speculates about how stray light could affect fireflies.

A Bounty on Firefly Lights
Pieribone & Gruber (2005, p.101) reproduced a photo taken at Johns Hopkins “before the molecular biology revolution” with William McElroy sitting next to an enormous pile of bounty-hunted fireflies, preparing to extract their luciferase. I’ve met some people who collected for McElroy when they were kids, and they still recall the excitement of running around Baltimore at night, gathering fireflies to trade in for cash the next day.

The Chicago Tribune reported on the Sigma Chemical Company’s firefly-collecting activities in 1987, as did Valerie Reitman in The Wall Street Journal in 1993. Searching for “Firefly Scientist’s Club” in Google News will turn up many old newspaper advertisements soliciting collectors to help in harvesting fireflies for commercial sale.

United Press International (1987, August 24). Pennies from heaven for firefly catchers. Chicago Tribune.

Reitman, V. (1993, September 2) Scientists are abuzz over the decline of the gentle firefly. The Wall Street Journal. A1.

As of 2015, many firefly-derived products are still listed on the Sigma Aldrich website, including:

Dried firefly tails (abdomens) http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/sigma/fft

Whole dried fireflies http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/sigma/ffw

Gilbert (2003) describes firefly-collecting efforts in Morgan County, Tennessee led by Pastor Dwight Sullivan from Whittier, California. As reported by O’Daniel (2014), during the summer of 2014 Sullivan was paying $2 per 100 live fireflies collected. In Bauer et al. (2013), we developed a model to predict whether firefly populations could sustain various levels of harvesting.

Gilbert, K. (2003, June 20). Fireflies light the way for this pastor. United Methodist Church News. http://archives.umc.org/umns/news_archive2003.asp?ptid=&story={661B5CCE-59B8-4C1F-8BF3-F0F17B99DDE6}&mid=2406

O’Daniel, R. (2014, July 16). Blicking bucks: Scientists will pay for summer’s glow. Morgan County News.

Other Insults

Estimates of pesticide application rates are from Beyond Pesticide’s website, which provides factsheets, news, and policy on the human health and environmental effects of pesticides:

Beyond Pesticides Fact Sheet (August 2005). Lawn Pesticides Facts and Figures.

Ki-Yeol Lee and colleagues (2008) provide a comprehensive study that experimentally measured how pesticides and fertilizers affect the different life stages of the common Asian firefly, Luciola lateralis (now renamed Aquatica lateralis); this firefly spends its larval stage living underwater. Analyzing the time course of firefly declines, Masahide Yuma (1993) pointed to increasing pesticide use on rice fields contributing to declining populations of Japanese fireflies. I am indebted to my former student and now colleague Ray Kameda for translating this and other material from Japanese.

Hotaru Koi: Come Firefly!

Erik Laurent (2001) and Akito Kawahara (2007) provide excellent descriptions of Japanese entomophila. The deep appreciation felt for fireflies in Japanese culture is described by Yuma (1993), Ohba (2004), and Oba and colleagues (2011).

Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) was a popular writer, translator, and interpreter of Japanese life and culture. The quotes are from his 1902 piece “Fireflies” reprinted on pp. 188-194 in Allen & Wilson’s 1992 anthology of Hearn’s writings.

Yuma (1995) traces the history of Uji’s fireflies. The late-night oviposition behavior of Genji-botaru females was described by Yuma & Hori (1981). The Tokyo Hotaru Festival (http://tokyo-hotaru.jp/), is now held annually in May:

Spacey, J. (2012, June 14). Hotaru Festival: A light spectacular in Tokyo. Japan Talk.

Iguchi (2009) reports evidence that local fireflies in the town of Tatsuno, Nagano Prefecture, which holds an annual summer firefly festival, have been contaminated by releasing non-native, artificially-bred Genji fireflies from other regions.

Further Exploration


About Fireflies in Japan
“Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” is fascinating 2009 documentary produced and directed by Jessica Oreck, which takes a closer look at the Japanese enthusiasm for insects, especially beetles.

This short video shows the 2013 “Symphony of Lights,” which feature artificial fireflies launched onto the Sumida River as ti flows through downtown Tokyo.

Selangor Declaration on the Conservation of Fireflies
Written by an international group of firefly experts in 2010 in Selangor, Malaysia, this declaration was updated in 2014.

The International Dark-Sky Association
This non-profit group works to spread the word about light pollution, and provides resources to help preserve the night.