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Fireflies’ Glow Could Soon Be Extinguished by Human Actions

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/07/15/fireflies-glow-could-soon-be-extinguished-human-actions

To the fireflies that enamored me in my youth, I treasured your ephemeral charms. You flitted this way then that way in an amazing lesson in stochastic reality. Your legacy needs to by MY responsibility to your progeny keeping a proper niche in the ECOSPHERE. Thank you so much for the good times we shared.


The benefits of fireflies for enchanted little children, medical research, etc. etc.-- sure, I suppose it’s useful to keep that stuff in mind. But there are even deeper, broader benefits to consider. When the benefits considered seem to cut off at the edge of the human domain, it normalizes an already normal mode of speciesistic (humanistic?) selfishness.

I ask that the venerable hiker’s creed be respectfully invoked (somehow) by those examining our tracks: “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.” Why is that important? Because it’s not just the coyotes and lizards, the grasses and trees, the streams and rocks – all of which have rights we ignore at out peril – it’s the essential mission of becoming an Earthling, realizing that the very composition of what stands for soul lies in the interstices between all the Earthlings. Losing the possibility of a meaningful life on Earth is at risk when we forget that hiker’s creed.


A childhood detached from the wonders of the natural World is a sad one.


Ohhhhh… (indigenous applause!)

I can hardly even write now, WiseOwl. When I think of all the relatives for whom this song is due, I just sob.

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Thank you for the impetus for a good cathartic cry.

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You are fortunate you still have that capacity Owl. If Iris and her unique voice doesn’t do that to any person, they are lost and beyond redemption…Iris DeMent is a national treasure, I was fortunate enough to see live. Her songs and voice draw emotion out of me like very few others can. Enjoy the feelings.

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OK, you’re making me listen to her for the fourth or fifth time. I am blown away by the way that we can share the beauty that DOES exist in the world. Clinging on to humanity is requisite to sanity, in my humble opinion.


In the same vein.

It is a beautiful world and we can all help make it more so.

Be kind.

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Thank you so much for this, I know and love this song through Emmylou Harris’ version from Wrecking Ball (1995). Didn’t know who wrote it until now.

Sad to hear how the rest of the world is going, but in my little valley, at least, the fireflies are now thriving. When the numbers get high enough–easily into the thousands–they coordinate their flashes (much like humans doing the “wave” at sports arenas) to produce waves of light that race across the valley or from end to end. I’ve even had firefly shows extend so far into fall that they were going on even after neighbors had put up their Christmas lights. Up until about 25 years ago, there would only be the occasional stray firefly, and some years I would see none at all–until I set out to cultivate them. The key to growing fireflies? Slugs. I created conditions favorable for slugs and snails and at night I have to step carefully because there are so many scattered across the ground. I also keep stacks of rotting wood for the giant rhinoceros beetles, click-beetles and some kind of squeaky beetle that makes irritated complaining noises when you press down on its back. I also keep tubs of water for breeding mosquito larvae, but very few will actually make it to adulthood because those are my breeding tanks for dragonflies. And the ones that do make it to adulthood feed the robber flies. I also create favorable conditions for cockroaches which form a broad base for the food chain. I’ve got lots of big Texas “Palmetto bug” roaches, highly camouflaged tree bark roaches, leathery armor-plated burrowing roaches, and even bright green roaches with a stylish bright red stripe across their face that goes through their eyes–looking like something from a cyberpunk story. There are a lot of species here that are not cute, not loved, and some that are even a bit scary (giant centipedes, bird spiders, ground wasps, rattlesnakes, etc.) but life is interwoven, and I don’t think we can save the overall tapestry by focusing on preserving only the prettiest strands. Even the ugly strands make the tapestry stronger.


As kids we would go frogging. There were tons of fireflies to keep us company. Haven’t seen nary a one last few years, the count being similar to Monarch butterflies.

My song of inspiration has long been “Desert Pete” done by The Kingston Trio. It goes to the heart of why I have been a caring and sharing liberal.

In my area (US Mid-Atlantic and Appalachians) fireflies are still seen every summer evening, but not nearly in the numbers we used to see.

And all kinds of flying insects have become almost extinct. The days when flying bugs surrounded street lights at night and a drive of even an hour required cleaning bugs from the windshield are over. And this is in spite of the near-extirpation of all but one species of bat in my area due to white nose syndrome (the latest bat counts in the local caves are showing some hope of recovery though).

It was disturbing how few flying insects such as white moths and midges were present inside or outside of our cave club house in a remote part of West Virginia.

Is anyone investigating the possibility that the crash in flying insect populations may simply be due to the rising CO2 levels? Most current insect species - with their rudimentary respiratory systems that rely of passive diffusion are not at all tolerant of higher CO2 concentration evolved during a period exceeded about 320 ppm. Now it is about 25% higher than that.


I grew up in a town that had a heavy insecticide campaign, where every week a truck would drive each street blowing great clouds of poison into the trees and air, and on dewey evenings, it would settle into a low ground fog that covered the lawns. And I think it was effective in suppressing many insect predator species, but I also suspect that’s also why some kinds of insect populations boomed. Where I am now, I don’t see the great collection of insects drawn to the lights that I recall from my youth, but I also have lots more praying mantises, bats, and insectivorous birds, so I have to wonder if maybe the great insect swarms I remember from long ago was more a sign of life out of balance.

I imagine different insect species have different sensitivities to CO2, but I get a lot of insects and larvae in my compost heaps, which are always high-CO2 and low oxygen. I also have teeming masses of drain-fly and black-soldier-fly larvae in my septic tank, where they keep the tank churned to promote aerobic bacteria, so that probably also greatly reduces O2 and increases CO2 levels in the tank. I also suspect respiratory limitations would have the greatest effect on the larger, more active, insect species, but I’m still getting cecropia moths, sphinx moths, and humming-bird hawk moths.

The insect numbers and variety on my place have increased greatly, even while the populations seem to be crashing all around me, and I think it all comes down to three things: Habitat, food, and I use no insecticides or herbicides except for the flea treatment I give my dogs. Bird and wildlife numbers are up too. I’m lucky to have a good sized chunk of land with several different kinds of ecosystems, and what I do takes work and time, and produces no revenue, so I don’t see this ever taking hold on agricultural land or on a commercial scale, and a lot of what I do would simply be banned in cities and suburbs. So I recognize my little island of life here is something rare, and it won’t last long after I’m gone (developers are keen to get my plot), but I’m hoping there will be enough other people with their own little islands that we can collectively form a sort of ark, until we reach the point that society at large comes around and actually begins large scale habitat restoration. There are many ways I think the film Silent Running was depressingly prophetic, but I am still holding out hope for a different ending.


Oh, I love Iris DeMent and this song, Childhood Memories! Thank you for sharing it. I vaguely remember fireflies from my childhood in New York, but I haven’t seen any for a really long time. I guess we don’t have them in Los Angeles. Still, it’s unbearably sad to think of losing them. Actually, more frustrating than sad, because it is preventable.

The insects in compsost heaps are not flying insects with resulting high energy requirements. Very few insecticides are used in my area - none at all at the WV location. Remeber the decline in flying insects is uniform and global.

Or at least, they aren’t flying while they are in the heaps. Clouds of them take to flight when I turn the piles. I also suspect there is a range of energy requirements in both environments. Sphinx moths are about the most energetic sustained insect fliers I can think of, and their limitation appears to be fuel, not the air they breathe. Horse flies and robber flies may have a higher burn rate, but in shorter spurts. Dragonflies seem to spend most of their time in the air gliding. But swimming through vegetation piles and digging through wood pulp can take some energy too, so it just depends on how active they are.

(I tried looking up what insects are the most energetic, or which burned the most calories for their weight, and all I got were hundreds of pages about insects as part of the human diet. The only calories that matter are the ones we can extract from them by eating them, apparently.)

“Very few insecticides are used in my area - none at all at the WV location.”

Herbicides can kill insects too.

“Remember the decline in flying insects is uniform and global.”

In the U.S. we are still using a couple hundred million pounds of insecticides per year, and the total for all pesticides combined is around a billion pounds. For the long-range flying insects, low pesticide use in specific places may not be enough to prevent their overall decline. For the short-range flyers, my own experience here is that the decline is not necessarily uniform on the smaller scale, and can actually be reversed. I also have the feeling that loss of habitat and food is the larger problem facing insects. And the long distance migraters may not be able to depend on weather patterns they used in the past. (I had a very beat-up morpho butterfly show up here last year, a long way from any of their usual migratory routes.)

We’re out of time for such utter idiocy.

Common Dreams, The United Nations, and Al Gore are calling for a fundamental upgrade of our economic system, but when such a model is presented for years, in great detail and with proof that everyone wins with this proven, simple and legal approach, they do not share or discuss it.


I suspect there a number of factors all of which add together. Everything from the number of added Radio waves from our communications technologies , to warming, herbicides, pesticides and the like. The only way to really suggest it C02 level increase is if the percent of loss is uniform all over the world. Mosquitoe populations in our north and the pine beetle population in our interior are if anything worse.