Tag Archives: Mexico

Firefly Tourism Grows in Mexico

The dense oyamel fir forests of Central Mexico are filled with an extraordinary light show every summer (June through August). In the town of Nanacamilpa, located in the state of Tlaxcala, there’s a 200 hectare firefly sanctuary that recently has been attracting over 50,000 tourists each year.

Facebook luciernagas

One group, called  Amigos de las Luciérnagas (Friends of the Fireflies), is worried that excessive tourism could have a negative impact on the firefly population (a newly described, endemic species called Macrolampis palaciosi). So they’ve started a national  campaign to raise awareness about these fireflies’ habitat requirements and their need for protection.

While it is certainly good news that so many people want to step out into the night to see fireflies, firefly ecotourism can be a double-edged sword. One thing makes these Mexican fireflies especially vulnerable: their females are flightless (they have no wings), and so may be trampled if too many people walk through their habitat.

You can learn more about firefly tourism in Mexico here and here (in Spanish).

 

 

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The Double-edged Sword of Firefly Ecotourism

I believe that firefly ecotourism is poised to take off all over the world within the next few years. It’s already quite a popular activity in many Asian countries. For centuries, traveling to the countryside to admire the slow, floating flashes of Genji fireflies has been a favorite summer past-time in Japan. Over the past several decades, the synchronous fireflies that stretch out along the mangrove rivers of Thailand and Malaysia have spawned a thriving ecotourist industry.

catching fireflies woodblock

In Taiwan, the government has recently been promoting firefly tourism, and now each year over 100,000 visitors climb up into the Alishan mountains to view the summer and winter fireflies that thrive there. In other places, firefly tourism remains in its infancy. As my earlier post describes, visitors to firefly ecotourist sites in Nanacamilpa, Mexico have skyrocketed since 2014. In the United States, places like Elkmont, Tennessee and North Carolina’s Dupont State Forest are becoming increasingly popular destinations for their firefly-viewing.

Photo by Radim Schreiber (Radim Photo)

Synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains

Yet firefly ecotourism carries both opportunities and challenges. On the positive side, it offers tangible benefits to local communities by promoting sustainable economic development. It’s also a terrific opportunity to educate visitors concerning the behavior, ecology, and habitat requirements of these beloved insects.

On the other hand, ecotourism carries challenges. It brings hordes of people into natural areas that are often far too fragile. In the case of fireflies, artificial light must be minimized, as it can interfere with fireflies’ luminous courtship signals. Some firefly species have flightless females, and these easily get trampled by people walking through their habitat. To minimize harm to natural firefly populations, thoughtful habitat management needs to be combined with environmental education.

As humans, we have a long history of taking our natural resources completely for granted. All too often, we regretfully note their demise only after they have vanished. Great auks, giant sequoias, Alishan’s hinoki cedars, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are but a few of the treasures we’ve already lost.

Maybe it’s time to pause a moment. Let’s decide what parts of the natural world we truly value. What kind of world do we want to leave for our children and our grandchildren? Then let’s get busy protecting those places and those creatures before it’s too late.