Pity the child who never caught a flashing firefly on a hot summer night — who never tried to unravel the mystery of an insect with its own internal lighting system.
Scientists say we’ll be pitying more and more such children as firefly populations are dwindling across the country. But a recent study by the Clemson University Vanishing Firefly Project offers some hope: There is still a steady glow in many parts of South Carolina.
Researchers gathered data from volunteers across the state who staked out their spots on June 1 and counted fireflies for a one-minute period between 8:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m.
Biogeochemist Alex Chow said data will be gathered again in coming years.
He said despite the good population numbers, it is important to protect fireflies.
Their biggest enemy seems to be urban development, changes in forestry practices and light pollution. Pesticides and fertilizers don’t help. Neither do earthworms, which compete with fireflies for food.
Scientists suggest turning off outside lights at night and adding a water feature to your landscape. Fireflies thrive around standing water and marshy areas. (Unfortunately, so do mosquitoes.) Keeping the population of fireflies healthy is akin to keeping magic alive.
What are fireflies saying to each other when they flash? They’re looking for mates, but also defending their territory and warning predators away.
What is this phenomenal power to light up? Among other things, chemicals from fireflies are used to study diseases, from cancer to muscular dystrophy, and in the ongoing attempt to detect life in outer space.
Pity the people who hear “firefly” and think only of sweet tea flavored vodka or the cancelled television series of the same name — who don’t know the joy of observing the very insects that inspired both.