Lightning bugs may be extinguished for good in some parts of the world.

Luminous fireflies are a sight to behold on a summer night, but in some parts of the world, their magical glow may no longer exist. New research reveals that fireflies—otherwise known as lightning bugs—face a triple extinction threat due to habitat loss, artificial light, and pesticide use. While many other insects, such as bees and butterflies, face similar threats, the estimated 2000 species of fireflies worldwide have a particularly harrowing threat.

Firefly on leaf at night
Credit: Gail Shumway/Getty Images

The study, which was published in BioScience, reveals that many mangrove habitats were converted to palm oil plantations and aquaculture farms, which caused a sharp decline in fireflies. "Some fireflies get hit especially hard when their habitat disappears because they need special conditions to complete their life cycle. For instance, one Malaysian firefly, famous for its synchronized flash displays, is a mangrove specialist," said Sara Lewis, professor of biology at Tufts University and lead author of the study.

In addition to habitat loss, light pollution has grown greatly in the past century, which has affected firefly mating rituals. "Many fireflies rely on bioluminescence to find and attract their mates, and previous work has shown that too much artificial light can interfere with these courtship exchanges," said study co-author Avalon Owens. According to the study, fireflies are economically important in many countries such as Mexico, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand because they represent a growing ecotourist attraction. However, fireflies have been largely neglected in global conservation efforts.

While researchers don't yet know exactly how long it would take for fireflies to become completely extinct, their hope is that this study will inspire conservationists to take action. "Our goal is to make this knowledge available for land managers, policymakers, and firefly fans everywhere," said co-author Sonny Wong of the Malaysian Nature Society. "We want to keep fireflies lighting up our nights for a long, long time."


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