Why Scientists Want To Preserve Fireflies

Why Scientists Want To Preserve Fireflies

Fireflies may be the most beloved of all insects. As children, the sight of fireflies glowing on and off in the distance was nothing short of fascinating. For many adults, fireflies not only conjure up pleasant memories from childhood, but their glowing bodies indicate that summer has officially arrived. Fireflies are immediately recognizable, and many children never tire of attempting to capture the bugs in mason jars, but how much do people really know about fireflies? As it turns out, fireflies are more than just an interesting group of insects, as firefly activity can indicate the relative health of a particular ecosystem. Unfortunately, this means that, much like other insect species today, firefly populations are decreasing due to environmental hazards. In response to this loss in firefly life, experts formed the Firefly Watch project at the Museum of Science in Boston. This project aims to preserve and track firefly populations in America.

The Firefly Watch project recruits thousands of citizen scientists from all fifty states and several Canadian provinces in order to track trends in firefly populations around North America. Starting just a couple of months ago, the Firefly Watch program was taken over by Mass Audubon. This organization is working closely with Tufts University in order to continue the research started by the Firefly Watch program. Mass Audubon is still looking for more citizen scientists; anybody can sign up for the project by visiting the Museum of Science in Boston website.

Researchers also want to preserve fireflies due to their value in the field of medicine. Fireflies are helping researchers to understand how diseases such as cancer and muscular dystrophy attack human cells. Fireflies have also been used to detect food spoilage and bacterial contamination. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that fireflies are even used by NASA officials when developing instruments that are designed to detect life beyond our own planet.

Have you ever attempted to catch fireflies as an adult? Did the fireflies that you captured as a child live longer than a single day in captivity?