Museum recruits amateur spotters to determine if fireflies are fading away


From Green Right Now Reports


Fireflies gently illuminating a backyard evening are the stuff of many a pleasant summer memory. If it seems you’ve been seeing fewer and fewer of them in recent years, you may not be alone.

The Museum of Science Boston is recruiting volunteers to study the luminescent flying beetle and report sightings online. Firefly Watch will track reports across the United States and Canada in an attempt to determine the range of the insect  and whether the firefly truly is in decline.

The project also will try to learn more about how fireflies are reacting to urban sprawl, habitat loss, drought, an increase in ambient light, and the effect of pesticides and fertilizers.

Firefly Watch has just wrapped up its third year, with hundreds of volunteers reporting sightings from Texas to Ontario and Prince Edward Island, creating a detailed and interactive firefly map.

Volunteers are asked to spend 10 minutes, once a week, recording data such as the location, time and temperature of their observance, and the number of fireflies and the color and pattern of their flash. They are even asked to note when they don’t spot fireflies, information also deemed important to the study.

“It’s funny, as ubiquitous as fireflies are, there isn’t a lot of scientific study or information about them,” Paul Fontaine, the museum’s vice-president of education, says.

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to get people outside, looking at nature, recording their observations using technology, and for us to collect a database that would allow scientists and researchers to answer questions like: What (is) the range of some of these species?”

One of the goals of the project — set to run for 10 years — is to enlist more volunteers on the fringes of the known habitat area. Currently, the known range of the firefly is a roughly sketched rhombus encompassing the eastern U.S. and the southeastern half of Canada.

With only three years’ of data, Fontaine says, it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions.

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