Hear the word firefly or lightningbug, and what comes to mind? Warm summer nights? Flickering lights in the encroaching dark? Maybe soft grass underfoot, with children running about? Few species ignite such warm feelings of nostalgia as fireflies. These beacons of light are some of our most beloved insects, and no wonder. Their bioluminescence fills us with awe. Their very presence feels magical. Their light has inspired artwork, literature, dance, and music. Beyond their immense cultural value, they have played critical roles in scientific research and medicine, and they are integral components of healthy, thriving ecosystems.
Fireflies are cherished, but they are also declining. Anecdotal reports from around the globe describe fewer individuals being seen each year. And while long-term monitoring studies are scarce, some of the data we have are concerning. For example, based on assessments published on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, one in three assessed North American fireflies may be at risk of extinction. Researchers found that 14% of the assessed species were categorized as threatened, but this number may be much higher since nearly half of the assessed species are data deficient. There is an urgent need to study firefly populations more closely to fully understand their plight and ensure conservation efforts are effective.
Somewhat surprisingly, fireflies receive relatively little conservation attention. Xerces and our partners are working to change this. Our goal? To conserve the full diversity of fireflies, from the common big dipper that emerges on dusky summer evenings all over the East to the at-risk Bethany Beach firefly that is found in only a few places along the Atlantic shore in Delaware. We plan to do this by advancing our understanding of firefly distributions, life histories, and extinction risks; identifying and addressing threats to their populations; recovering populations that have declined; and engaging people from all walks of life in saving and protecting these incredible insects.
Did you know that not all fireflies flash, and that some are actually active during the day? Would you be surprised to hear that fireflies occur in 49 US states and many Canadian provinces? Learn more about the fascinating diversity of species that makes up the firefly family Lampyridae.
Fireflies face a variety of threats, from habitat degradation and loss to light pollution, pesticide use, climate change, poor water quality, and invasive species, among others. Xerces and our partners are working to address these threats at multiple levels while also broadening scientific understanding of fireflies’ conservation needs.
Here at Xerces, we are tackling firefly conservation on all fronts—by focusing on species whose life history traits make them more vulnerable to extinction, while also working to keep common species common. Learn more about some of our most threatened species and how you can help contribute to their conservation.
Despite concerns about potential population declines, fireflies have received relatively little conservation attention. Help us initiate this important conversation by advocating for fireflies in your community; participating in community science projects that track their distributions; and taking steps at home to turn out your lights at night and identify, protect, and restore high-quality firefly habitat.