Lights out for fireflies?

Fireflies are dwindling around the world.

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Where have all the fireflies gone? One of the joys of my childhood summers was evenings spent chasing after fireflies (although we called them lightning bugs).

We usually had a quart-size glass jar to put them in -- Mom had poked holes in the lid with an ice pick. When we tied of running after the fireflies, we rested a bit and watched them light up the jar. Better than a flashlight!

Then we let them go -- and tried again the next clear night.

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So I was saddened when I read an Associated Press story on CNN noting that experts fear that fireflies are dwindling. It was datelined Thailand but it could have been written from the US, Europe, or almost anywhere in the world.

"It is quite clear they are declining," the article quoted Stefan Ineichen, a researcher who studies fireflies in Switzerland and has a website to gather information on firefly sightings.

"When you talk to old people about fireflies, it is always the same," he said. "They saw so many when they were young and now they are lucky now if they see one."

He and about 100 entomologists and biologists were in Thailand last week to discuss the plight of fireflies.

No, this isn't another "blame it on global warming" story. But the causes will sound familar -- urban sprawl and pollution (and, in some instances, clear-cutting the rain forest).

Some scientists also believe that the spread of artificial light has inteferred with fireflies' mating behavior. (Those blinking lights are the males' mating signals to the females.)

Surprisingly, there are at least 2,000 species of fireflies -- with more being discovered -- and scientists know very little about most of them.  They speculate, for instance, that the flashing lights can be signals of anything from love to danger.

And did you remember from your school days that glimmering glowworms are the larvae of fireflies? Two researchers say that the glow is to make them seem unpalatable to nocturnal predators.

Boston's Museum of Science has a set up a Citizen Science Firefly Survey, and are asking for people to participate in a Firefly Watch.

All it takes is 10 minutes one evening a week to make some observations. It may be a little late this year, but I'm going to see what I can do. I'd hate to think about the children of the future not having those same wonderful memories of evenings enlightened by flittering fireflies.

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