When I think of Fourth of July and summer being in full swing, it brings me back to when I was a kid enjoying the magic of building forts in the woods, night swimming and fireflies around my hometown in Connecticut.
That’s why when I saw that Audubon Greenwich in Connecticut was hosting a firefly night on June 28, I quickly signed up. Even though I’m 45, I figured you’re never too old to be enchanted by them.
And I was right. As guests meandered through trails in the dark around the Greenwich property, all of us, young and old, were dazzled by the hundreds of fireflies we saw, who were using their blinking pattern like a secret code to “talk” with other fireflies and to find mates. They light up using a chemical reaction in their lower abdomen and flash in different patterns depending on their species and whether they are male or female.
“I just love this.” “It looks like fireworks.” “What is that wonderful smell?” were some of the comments I overheard as kids dashed to and fro trying to catch some fireflies in their mason jars. (They had to release them shortly after.) We also spent time at the pond on the property looking for frogs and turtle with our flashlights.
What struck me almost as much as the beauty of the beetles—fireflies are actually beetles and there are more than 150 species in North America— was the number of families enjoying this event. It was truly uplifting to see families relishing nature.
At Friends of Animals, we place wildlife and critical habitat protection at the core of our advocacy, and it felt good to see people who seem to be invested in both showing up at an event like this, especially in Fairfield County, which is heavily populated and developed.
We know all too well that respect for wildlife and a desire to conserve biodiversity is not ubiquitous these days as adults and children spend evermore time indoors, disconnected from nature. Compounding the problem are communities driven by development plans without the flip side, an open space plan.
Kids spending too much time indoors has become so extreme that the crisis has a name: Nature Deficit Disorder, according to the Child Mind Institute. This shift is largely due to technology: The average American child spends four to seven minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and more than seven hours a day in front of a screen.
How heartening that the Audubon event was sold out two nights in a row. With the click of a mouse, anyone can find activities like this at their local nature centers.
And cheers to Audubon for starting out the evening with an educational message on how we can all help fireflies so kids could leave feeling empowered. Their suggestions:
* Eliminate pesticides in your yard
*Leave natural leaf litter under shrubs or other areas of yards and parks to provide damp living areas for larvae
*Protect wetland habitats
*Minimize outdoor lighting especially when fireflies are flashing in spring and summer.
We also learned that a few days after mating, a female lays her fertilized eggs on or just below the surface of the ground. The eggs hatch three to four weeks later, and the larvae feed until the end of the summer. Fireflies hibernate over winter during the larval stage. Some do this by burrowing underground, while others find places on or under the bark of trees.
The larvae then emerge from hibernation in the spring. After several weeks of feeding, they pupate for 1–2.5 weeks and emerge as adults.
A firefly’s diet depends on where it is in the life cycle. As newly emerged larvae in the spring, most fireflies feed on other insects, snails, worms and mites, so they can be beneficial to keeping “pests” away from gardens organically. As adults, their diet varies from species to species—some are predatory, while others feed on plant pollen or nectar.
Interestingly, when attacked by a predator, fireflies release tiny drops of blood containing distasteful, toxic chemicals. Studies have shown that predators like birds, toads and even some spiders quickly learn to steer clear of fireflies.
I could go on and on about other interesting tidbits about fireflies that I gleaned from the firefly event. But I don’t want you to keep you in front your computer or phone screen any longer describing them.
Instead, go outside tonight and see for yourself.