QUESTION: What happened to all the fireflies? Baton Rouge had tons of them years ago. Since Livingston Parish stopped its mosquito spraying, I’m starting to see more of them. Has the mosquito spraying been killing off the fireflies?
ANSWER: We went to The Advocate’s environmental reporter Amy Wold, who touched base with Chris Carlton, the Benjamin Holton Professor of Agriculture and director of the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum.
The answer is never as simple as a yes or no, Carlton says, and catching sight of the elusive bugs may be a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
“We get asked about this a lot, so I’ve given it some thought,” Carlton says. “Many people remember seeing fireflies (which are actually beetles in the family Lampyridae) as kids. Often these are very brief occurrences that leave lasting impressions of warm summer evenings in the country.
“Then we grow up and over the course of an entire season, we don’t see as many and conclude they are disappearing. Maybe they are. But it is also important to understand that each of the 20 or so species we have here in Louisiana have a distinct flight period that may be very brief. So, possibly people don’t get out in the country enough and they just miss them.”
However, it’s not just opportunity. Habitat does play a role.
“Certainly in urban areas, it is difficult to survive as a firefly. Urban lighting disrupts the signaling patterns that fireflies rely on for successful mate finding. In fact urban lighting has a lot of negative impacts on insects and other organisms, including people,” Carlton says.
People and cities should demand that high-glare streetlights be replaced with lower intensity or directed/shielded lights, he says.
Another contributing impact is indeed mosquito abatement treatments, he says, which when combined with bright lights, “virtually eliminate fireflies” from brightly lit urban habitats.
However, it is possible that in dark areas like Bluebonnet Swamp, fireflies can still be seen if someone is visiting the swamp at the right time.
“Rural areas still have considerable populations if you can get away from the lights and happen to be there during the correct time of the season,” Carlton says.
Want more information on fireflies? Check out the cool videos, photos and research at firefly.org.
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