Raleigh, North Carolina “When you think back to your childhood summers, you might remember catching fireflies at dusk. While fireflies are a summertime staple for many children, research shows that human activity could lead to a decline in North Carolina’s diverse firefly population if steps are not taken to preserve them.
Clyde Sorenson, an entomologist at North Carolina State University, says the biggest threat to fireflies is light pollution and the improper use of pesticides. Fireflies use darkness to communicate, and without it they can’t reproduce as much.
“If there’s too much ambient light, it could alter insect behavior,” Sorenson said.
North Carolina has a diverse population of fireflies – in the mountains and in coastal areas – all are uniquely threatened.
“Compared to many other places, we have quite a diversity of fireflies,” he said. “Ecologically, they are important.”
Fireflies spend most of their lives as larvae, feeding on slugs and earthworms in the soil. If there are fewer predators for these insects in an environment, slugs and earthworms can invade crops.
“It can change the ecological balance of these habitats,” he said. “But beyond that, fireflies are just fascinating because of the mystery of their parades.”
A study published last year found that fireflies in North America are at risk of extinction, particularly in South Carolina and Florida. Many fireflies live near swamps and wetlands, and since these habitats are under threat, so are fireflies.
“There are legitimate reasons to be concerned,” Sorenson said.
For many species of fireflies, the females are flightless, so they cannot easily move if their habitat is lost.
Sorenson said there aren’t many people who have invested the time and resources into studying fireflies.
“We have to make sure we understand who we have and where they live,” he said. “We need to do more to identify populations of particularly rare firefly species. And then one of the most important things we can do is protect those habitats from degradation.”