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ESA Petition Filed to Protect the Loopy Five Firefly, a Southeastern Lightning Bug

By Richard Joyce on 21. March 2023
Richard Joyce

The Xerces Society has submitted a petition for the listing of the loopy five firefly (Photuris forresti) under the federal Endangered Species Act

The loopy five is a rare firefly currently known from fewer than ten wetland sites in middle elevations of Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. This firefly first caught the eye of renowned firefly scientist Dr. James Lloyd in 1986, but was not formally described by him until 2018. By this point, the wetland where it was first found had been bulldozed and replaced by a golf course. Other wetlands like it in the region have been drowned under reservoirs, altered by invasive plants, illuminated by artificial light at night, degraded by urbanization, and contaminated by pesticides. The loopy five firefly was assessed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a non-regulatory designation distinct from the Federal ESA.


Map showing sites of loopy five firefly sightings in a few sites in Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina
The loopy five firefly is known from just three southeastern states: Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina.


Loopy five fireflies are named for their erratic, multi-pulsed flash pattern that consists of a series of four to seven flashes over about three seconds while flying up and down. They emerge as adults in May and June and perform their courtship displays over marshy wetlands after darkness has fallen.  Most of their lives are spent as larvae, feeding on snails and other soft-bodied invertebrates.


Loopy five firefly flash pattern, with 2 semi-circular flashes and 3 short blips forming a circle
A long exposure photograph of the loopy five firefly flash pattern illustrates the inspiration for its common name. (Photo: Radim Schreiber.)


The loopy five firefly is threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, as well as exposure to pesticides, light pollution, climate change, and invasive species. While it has been found on some state and county conservation lands, there are no species-specific measures being taken to protect it. ESA listing and designation of critical habitat will protect the loopy five firefly from extinction.


Loopy five firefly
A loopy five firefly at a wetland in the Piedmont region of Georgia. (Photo: Richard Joyce / Xerces Society.)


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Richard joined Xerces as an endangered species conservation biologist in 2022. He coordinates many aspects of the Firefly Atlas project, collaborates with researchers, land managers, and community scientists, and compiles and creates tools and resources that drive firefly conservation efforts.

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