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Firefly Conservation: How You Can Help

A purple firefly, with a pink head, dark antennae, and a brightly-lit, yellow light on its rear, is perched on a green, leafy stem.
(Photo: Radim Schreiber, fireflyexperience.org)

Most firefly researchers agree that habitat loss and degradation, light pollution, pesticide use, and climate change are the leading threats to fireflies. Despite concerns about potential population declines, fireflies have received relatively little conservation attention. You can help 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.

In general, fireflies need just a few basic things: food, shelter, moisture, protection from pesticides, and for some species, dark nights. By keeping these requirements in mind, you can easily provide for fireflies in your yard, park, or natural area. In particular, most fireflies need abundant larval food sources; safe places to overwinter; clean sources of water; protection from insecticides; undisturbed ground for burrowing; vegetation of varying heights; and an absence of light pollution.

If you have a yard, consider leaving some corners a little wild. Fireflies thrive in moist habitats with abundant native vegetation, dense leaf litter, and true nighttime darkness. These features provide not only the shelter needed by fireflies, they also ensure the habitat components needed by fireflies’ favorite prey—soft-bodied invertebrates such as snails, slugs, and earthworms.

 

What Fireflies Need

Abundant Larval Food Sources

Including soft-bodied invertebrates such as snails, slugs, and earthworms.

(Photo: Heinz Albers / Wikimedia Commons)

Safe Places to Overwinter

Including trees, leaf litter, and underground burrows. Learn more about the value of Leaving the Leaves!

(Photo: Public Domain / Pexels.com)

Native Vegetation of Varying Heights & Clean Sources of Water

or moisture for perching, shelter, and protection from desiccation.

(Photo: Justin Wheeler)

Protection from Pesticides & Ground Disturbing Activities

Broad-spectrum insecticides especially pose risks to fireflies, but minimizing pesticide use overall is advised. Ground disturbances such as tilling should also be avoided when and where possible.

(Photo: Katja Schulz / Flickr Creative Commons 2.0)

Dark Nights

Dusk- and night-active fireflies need darkness in order to use their bioluminescent light signals to communicate. Learn more about the value of dark skies here.

(Photo: Radim Schreiber, fireflyexperience.org)

How You Can Help

Contribute to Firefly Community Science Projects

Consult the list below or see our Community Science page for more information on how to get involved with these key data gathering efforts.

(Photo: Asa Spade, iNaturalist / Flickr Creative Commons)

Adopt Firefly-Friendly Practices

Using our newly-published guidelines, Conserving the Jewels of the Night: Guidelines for Protecting Fireflies in the United States and Canada, and our upcoming firefly fact sheets, you can implement firefly-friendly practices on your farm, in your garden, or anywhere!

(Photo: Radim Schreiber, fireflyexperience.org)

Advocate for Imperiled Species & Spread the Word

Of particular note is the Bethany Beach firefly, which is known from only a few sites along the Atlantic Coast in Delaware. Residential development and rising tides due to climate change threaten this critically endangered species.

(Photo: Christopher Heckscher)

Firefly Community Science Opportunities

Firefly Watch: Mass Audubon has teamed up with researchers from Tufts University to track firefly populations and determine if they are growing or shrinking, and what could lead to changes in their populations. Participants commit to spending at least 10 minutes once a week during firefly season observing fireflies in one location in North America.

Western Firefly Project: The Natural History Museum of Utah is working with researchers at Brigham Young University to collect information on the firefly genus Pyractomena and investigate this group’s phylogenetic relationships and population genetics. Community scientists can contribute to this effort by submitting observations of flashing fireflies from Utah and other western states.

Fireflyers International Network (FIN): FIN is an international group of firefly scientists, conservationists, and artists. Their website provides a wealth of information on the global firefly community, upcoming meetings and symposia, and ways to get involved. An extensive list of published firefly literature is available, as well as numerous keys and field guides. In 2010, the group published the Selangor Declaration, which urges governments around the world to protect and restore firefly habitats, promote education and community involvement, and support funding for firefly-related research.

 

Learn More