Tag Archives: rearing

China: Headed for Endarkenment?

During summer 2016, some pretty alarming reports began circulating around the English-speaking world concerning commercial harvesting of Chinese fireflies from wild populations (see earlier post). In December, an international group of firefly experts called Fireflyers International Network (FIN) wrote a letter to the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection denouncing this practice. In March 2017, after receiving a very thoughtful response from the Chinese government, I’ll admit I felt pretty encouraged.

A villager collects fireflies attracted to his motorcycle headlight (Jiangxi Province, 2016).

But, sadly, the future remains grim for Chinese fireflies.

According to this article by reporter Zeng Jinqiu for Beijing News, villagers in rural areas can still make a pretty penny harvesting adult fireflies. Unfortunately, these adults only live for about one week,  and once removed from their native habitat,  they’re unable to successfully reproduce.

Who is buying live Chinese fireflies? It looks like the biggest consumers are  giant new indoor amusement parks that have popped up in various cities, and which put on live firefly shows for paying customers.

Commercial firefly exhibitions in 2016

During 2016, over fifty commercial venues purchased live fireflies (wild-caught) for their exhibitions (map prepared by firefly conservation group, 萤火虫生态线)

We have arranged a meeting with the fireflies… After a long disappearance, fireflies suddenly appeared … thousands of fireflies flying, shining in the dark, as bright as the stars,”  announced a recent advertisement for MAG Universal Magic World, one  amusement park located in the city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

During April 2017 this park hosted ten live firefly exhibitions. At each event, they displayed a few thousand fireflies, which were housed in glass bottles, shaken periodically to encourage flashing. Because each night many fireflies died, they were replaced with fresh ones.

In a single year, with similar large-scale exhibitions of live fireflies happening all over China (see map), the lights of several hundred thousand fireflies were permanently extinguished.

MAG fireflies in jar

Staffer at MAG Universal Magic World in Guangzhou shakes captive fireflies to elicit flashing

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About Those Firefly Babies…

Everyone loves fireflies and everyone loves babies, so it sounds like baby fireflies would be extra cute, right? But….


what they eat

Baby fireflies are voracious predators

Baby fireflies are ruthless carnivores dedicated to gluttony and growth. During their juvenile stage, most fireflies live in soil and rotting wood, where they prey upon earthworms, snails, and other soft-bodied creatures.

For the past several weeks, I’ve kept busy rearing 20 Lucidota firefly larvae. Just 5 weeks after they hatched out from eggs, my baby fireflies are growing fast. But I have to admit, watching them eat is getting scary! If you’ve seen Stranger Things, maybe you’ll know what I mean.

At rest, these babies huddle together. When I give them an earthworm they quickly gang up on it. This gregarious feeding habit lets them take down prey  much, much bigger than themselves. Using their sickle-shaped jaws, they inject the worm with paralyzing neurotoxins. Then, while it’s still alive, they cut it up it into pieces. Over the next 24 hours, they line up like suckling piglets to suck up their liquified prey.  Yum – nice fresh earthworm smoothie, anyone?

Anyway, each night before I go to bed, I now check to make sure my baby fireflies are securely inside their containers. So sweet dreams!




Raising Fireflies?!

As I’ve described previously in this blog, it’s generally proven difficult to raise U.S. fireflies. Once you’ve gotten the eggs to hatch, the next problem is getting the larvae to eat, grow, and survive. It sounds simple, but it takes young fireflies up to 2 years to develop. As their size increases, they need to shed their old exoskeleton & grow a new one. Each of these molting cycles is called an instar, and fireflies need to go through ~11 larval instars before they’re finally ready to metamorphose into the adults we’re familiar with.

So I’m really excited to report that so far I’ve had pretty good luck this year!

I’ve been caring for  ~20 very active Lucidota larvae that hatched from eggs. Now 2 weeks old,  they’re shown below climbing on a bit of earthworm poop. Because they’re still small, every few days I feed them cut-up pieces of earthworms (yuck). After enjoying a gluttonous feast last week, many have molted into a new instar.

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Can I raise fireflies?

Because they have a complex life cycle, raising fireflies is very difficult. To get from egg to adult, you will need to work out conditions that promote survival not just for the eggs, but also the larval and pupal stages. So far, scientists have been able to successfully rear just a few Asian firefly species (Luciola cruciata, Aquatica lateralis, and Aquatica ficta), all with aquatic larval stages.

Many people (including myself, Jim Lloyd, Lynn Faust and Larry Buschman) have tried to raise U.S. fireflies  – all of which have terrestrial larvae – but without much success. If you find a mated female, it’s generally easy to get her to lay her eggs on moss. With luck, within a few weeks the eggs will successfully hatch out into tiny larvae. They’re cute and hungry! But the next step is extremely difficult: getting these larvae to eat, grow, and survive for the many months it takes before they’re big enough to pupate.

Although I’ve tried several different species, I’ve never gotten any of these terrestrial larvae to survive longer than 2-3 months. I’ve tried feeding them earthworms, snails, cat food (both wet and dry), and never gotten survival rates above 1%. So, as I recommend in Silent Sparks: Stepping Out, the best thing is to return any newly-hatched firefly larvae to their original habitat, where they’ll likely have a better chance of survival.

6 w share earthworm bit

At 6 weeks, only 1% of these Ellychnia larvae still survived.

If you’re still determined to give it a try, Terry Lynch’s Firefly Notebooks provide a lot of useful information; Terry also describes his techniques for rearing Photinus larvae here.

Update April 2017Exciting news – Dr. Scott Smedley at Trinity College, Hartford CT has successfully raised Pyractomena borealis fireflies for two generations! Stay tuned for more details about the rearing techniques he & his students have developed.