What Happened to All of the Fireflies in Texas? The Sad Truth…and Hope
I hear it a few times at least, every single year: 'What happened to all of our fireflies?"
It's a question I've pondered myself many a time.
When I was a little girl, I loved many things about summertime in East Texas. I loved the freedom from school, heading down to the snow cone shack with my friends, swimming for ridiculously long hours on end, and all of those backyard cookouts.
But the thing I loved the most? The one aspect of the season that was most quintessentially "summer" for me? Sitting outside as twilight fell and watching fireflies, or lightning bugs, begin to glow in the trees and natural areas around our house.
In those magic moments, any chatter or laughter my family and friends were enjoying would suddenly come to hushed, admiring awe for these little bugs who added sparkle to the evening after a perfectly lovely day.
Nowadays, if I see 3 or 4 off in the thicket somewhere, I'm grateful.
But, what happened to all of the fireflies we used to see so often here in East Texas?
Ben Pfeiffer is a New Braunfels-based firefly researcher and naturalist. Who knew there was such a gig? Thanks to his 2019 interview with Texas Monthly, we can shine a bit more light on the subject.
First the good news: In some parts of our great state, these glowy beetles are slowly making a comeback.
Although to be honest, they have to compete with several antagonizing forces that make it more challenging. And these are?
According to Pfeiffer, these are some of the main reasons we see less and less of one of our favorite bugs every year:
Overpopulation and/or Industrialization.
It's inevitable as populations grow. More people need more places to live and work. That means more of the natural habitats for fireflies (and many other creatures) are reduced. Which in turn means their numbers will decrease. BUT, there is something we can do.
And in fact, our East Texas communities have already begun doing the work by setting aside more natural spaces--walking trails and wildflower areas. Perhaps we could particularly leave some space to encourage the return of our fireflies. They like pine and dogwood, so we're all set there. ;)
In addition, fireflies love moisture. Thus, marshy areas and standing water attract them. (Yes I know it attracts mosquitoes, too. Thankfully our bat population seems to be growing, so that's good.) At home, you may consider adding a water feature to your yard.
Too Much Artificial Light.
Treehugger.com says fireflies don't like artificial light. Why? Well, those lovely little lights they shine aren't just for show. They also help them find a mate. The super bright artificial lights make it harder for them to do so.
As beautiful as some of our outdoor lights can be if you want to see more fireflies, lower light is better. Maybe invest in a few tiki torches instead for the nights you want to see the most. Or just turn them all off and light a citronella candle. ;)
Perhaps not a surprise. Yep, we're thankful those chemicals kill some of the bugs we don't like, but it's also lethal to fireflies, too. Limiting the chemicals to your more immediate surrounding and leaving the more outlying areas natural may help.
And to be clear, Pfeiffer has some doubts that any one of these can be particularly blamed. In his research he knows there are thriving firefly populations where some of these factors are in play. His take? The biggest culprit, most likely, is the destruction of their natural habitats.
Treehugger.com also suggests fighting the temptation to put these beloved insects in jars. Although it's wonderful to see them up close, spending too long in these jars can also lead to accidental death. That's one less firefly in the world--and frankly, we need all of them we can get right now.
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