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Nature Faces Many Threats Including Our Lights

Swift County Monitor - Staff Photo - Create Article

For children, seeing fireflies at night is pure delight. Running through a field or yard, chasing after their flickering light is a memory children take with them throughout their lives.
Considering what is needed for fireflies to prosper, this spring has been ideal. Fireflies like wet areas with standing water. They thrive in marshes, small creeks and lakes surrounded by reeds.
On a dark night, their glow seems powerful for such a small insect, but it can’t compete with mankind’s artificial lights that invade their spaces with growing frequency.
“In a few weeks, fireflies will emerge from the grasses in the warmth of Minnesota’s early summer nights. They’ll emit their soft light in the intricate flashes and coded blinks they need to find each other during their short lives,” Greg Stanley writes for the Star Tribune.
However, he continues, we may be making it harder for them to mate, threatening them with extinction. Fireflies must see the light another one emits to find a mate. But we increasingly have more areas of the landscape lit up at night, outshining the meager light they emit.
It is just one more way in which we are contributing to the demise of a species that has brought wonder to so many children. The draining of sloughs and the elimination of grassy areas for urban development and farmland have also caused the loss of habitat that once was home to fireflies. Pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, are also harming firefly populations.
“Even the interfering light of a full moon can outshine their visual Morse code, making it impossible for males and females to recognize each other,” the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says. “Light pollution from towns, factories and roads have been seriously killing the buzz for these insects. And as cities grow, greenspaces shrink. Tall grass is where fireflies spend their time. When grass is cut short, or paved over completely, competition for space goes up for fireflies and successful mating goes down.”
One magical night a decade ago now, we were driving home from Lake Minnewaska at sunset; a thunderstorm was lighting up the sky in the west. But closer by we saw another light that captured our attention. We saw a field with hundreds of fireflies flickering in the tall grasses.
We turned off the highway, drove a few hundred yards to the west, parked the car, and walked into the field. The storm was drawing closer, with lightning flashes arcing across the sky and the rumble of thunder growing louder. One light show was intense in its energy, and the other was silent and gently floating a few feet off the ground. It’s a sight future generation of Minnesotans may not have the chance to experience.
We see far fewer fireflies today than we saw as a child. We are not alone in noticing their absence. Researchers have also found that their numbers are declining.
One-third of the firefly species in Canada and the U.S. may be facing extinction if we continue to destroy their habitat and continue to light up the landscape.
This isn’t just a column about how we can preserve fireflies in Minnesota. It is a comment on how we continue to degrade the environment for all of nature and the species that rely on native habitats. We need to do more as humans to preserve nature for future generations and for our very survival.
Fireflies are just one more indicator of our overall environmental health and their loss a sign of our shrinking biodiversity. As the world’s population grows, we need to produce more food, find more water, produce more goods, build more subdivisions, and provide more energy for those homes.
“Currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster than they regrow, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them and emitting more climate-warming carbon dioxide than oceans and forests can absorb,” the Living Planet report says.
Our planet, the natural habitat of thousands of species, some vital to our food production, are suffering.
“The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it,” Marco Lambertini, director-general of World Wildlife Fund for Nature, says. “Life supports life itself, and we are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.”
If you want your children, or grandchildren, to be delighted by chasing fireflies, creating memories of their own, help support their habitat.
Here are some ways you can help in your backyards, at your cottage at the lake, and on your farmsteads to support fireflies and other insect populations as recommended by the Fish & Wildlife Service:
- Turn off outdoor lights in the evening, especially in late June and July. If you have inside lights on, close the blinds.
- Plant native plants.
- Mow grass less frequently and raise the length of the cut to 4 inches. Fireflies are nocturnal insects, hiding in the grass during the day.
- When leaves drop in the fall, rake them if you want, but keep them in your yard
- Use non-pesticide solutions for insect control
- Know how much salt is necessary to de-ice sidewalks, and don’t over-do it
- Contact your city about reducing or finding alternatives to salt usage
- Watch insects closely, enjoy their presence as you learn about their bodies and behaviors
- Show others, particularly kids, how insects are interesting, not intimidating.
Who you support at the state and national levels also matters. Do they recognize the degradation of our natural environment and are they willing to initiate steps to protect it?
Do they recognize the threat a rapidly warming planted is to biodiversity in the world? May was the hottest on record and the 1t2th consecutive monthly record high.
Our decisions today will have an impact for generations to come.


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