Fireflies are still plentiful

Q. Are the lightning bugs really disappearing?

Mary from Campbell

A. There are lots of stories out there about the firefly populations dwindling. To get the real story, I turned to Dr. David Shetlar, professor, department of entomology, OSU Extension. Here’s his answer:

I get this all the time. The myth of fireflies disappearing is common, but not true. There are several websites dedicated to fireflies and virtually all of them extoll the plight of the fireflies. The problem is that there is no doubt that some species of fireflies are really struggling, but most of these species are tropical ones where their habitat is being destroyed (some of these are really spectacular semi-social ones — they flash together in a single tree). Our native fireflies are in no real trouble, and I’ve seen more of them this year than over the last several seasons, though last year was pretty good also.

My take on fireflies is that the populations you see this summer are related to the weather over the last year or two. Most of our fireflies have larvae that feed on snails and slugs. That means you have to have a good population of snails and slugs to feed the larvae. When you have good weather conditions for snails and slugs in one season, you’re likely to have more adult fireflies the following summer. If this holds true, then next summer should see a real abundance of fireflies because we have had a cooler and wetter than normal summer, which should be good for the snail and slug populations.

As a scientist who has to rely on empirical data to draw conclusions, I tend to fall on the side of “show me the data” when it comes to websites promoting the plight of the firefly. The Lepidoptera groups are also in the same boat. Many websites rant and rave that there is a major loss of butterflies one year, but don’t point out the significant recovery the following season.

Eric Barrett is OSU Ext. educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the office hot line at 330-533-5538 from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays to submit your questions.

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