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Where have fireflies gone?

Q: Are the lightning bugs really disappearing?

• Cindy from Youngstown

A: Great question. This is a common myth that is mostly a result of misinformation on the internet. You do hear this quite often, but it is not a fact.

There are websites dedicated to the demise of the fireflies. There are viral posts on social media to come to their aid.

Our firefly expert, Dr. David Shetlar, reminds us that some species of fireflies are in fact struggling, but the species that are in need are only the ones in tropical regions where habitats are being destroyed at a rapid pace. He even notes some of these marveling insects flash together in a single tree.

Fireflies and lightning bugs here in Ohio are the one in the same. But they are not flies and they are not bugs. They are beetles.

These adults and their flashing peaks around July 4 (rather ironic, eh?). This time of year, they have completed their life cycle and the new eggs have hatched into larvae which will grow through winter and pupate into adults late next spring. Then they will use their flashing as code for other insects to not eat them and for communicating with a mate.

The fireflies native to Ohio are not in danger. Since 2014, we have noticed increasing populations. They are like many other insects that do have ups and downs in the populations.

The main food of the larvae is snails and slugs — so they love hanging out in your garden if you have lots of these.

You can say that moisture is a big factor in populations, as wetter conditions encourage larger snail and slug populations. So, even though it was a dry for a few weeks, the wetter weather means a solid population of fireflies for shows next June and July.

Generally speaking, wetter, cooler summers will lead to more fireflies the next summer.

So don’t believe everything you hear on social media and be skeptical of “the-sky-is-falling” type websites. Look for the data. Insect populations have ups and downs, with one example being the higher number of Japanese beetles this year compared to last year.

Just because one year is down, does not mean the next year will be. Look at the data over a longer period of time.

Learn more about them at http://go.osu.edu/fireflies.

Barrett is the Ohio State University Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the extension office hotline, 330-533-5538, 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays to submit your questions.

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