Where did all of the fireflies go? Generations of families have spent countless evenings spotting and catching little glowing bugs in our backyard. After the sun would set, seemingly hundreds of flashing lights would come out and float around outside. But, many are finding fewer of these flashes, and it is not yet clear what is causing an apparent decline in firefly populations.
Researchers from the Museum of Science, Boston, Tufts University, and Fitchburg State College are enlisting citizen scientists from all over the country to help map out and study firefly habitats to determine what environmental factors affect their geographic distribution and behavior during the summer. This is a wonderful opportunity for families to experience real amateur research and contribute to an important nation-wide study of the evolution of habitats in our country.
The tasks involved in this project are relatively easy, and will consume only a few minutes each week in the evenings… of course, more time may be spent to collect more valuable data. The project features an easy-to-use on line data journal, and provides updated maps of habitat observations across the country. For each data collection session, a few simple questions need to be answered from ten minutes of observations in your backyard … a time that will prove to be a relaxing respite after a long day at work or a fun time to bond with the children.
Several environmental factors are being explored in this study to find out more about what general influences firefly activity. In particular, they are looking at how different types of lawn care activities might affect the habitat, outdoor and street lighting during the evening and night-time, foliage coverage, farmland, and water sources.
Firefly Watch also includes a nice educational overview about fireflies… or lightning bugs (they’re really flashing beetles!)… including how to identify different types, gender, and why and how the little buggies having flashing bums. This is yet another perfect opportunity to learn about science in nature with your family, and then go out and experience the science directly in your own backyard. Certainly, this is a way for younger students (and those newly-inspired adults!) to realize a deeper understanding and appreciation for nature. In addition, if time is spent first with children to “book learn” about fireflies and then directly experience firefly behavior in the “real world,” a further realization and connection between learning and experiencing the real thing can be developed. And, this skill is certainly important to have as they continue with their future education experiences in the classroom.
Register for free on line right away, so that you may collect as much data as possible this summer. Then, additional data collection will open up next summer so that firefly habitat trends year-to-year may developed. Recall your childhood memories, make new memories with your kids, and do real amateur research this summer with Firefly Watch.
“Firefly, oh so bright, how many in flight this night?” :: The Boston Globe :: July 7, 2008 :: [ READ ]
“Where Have All the Fireflies Gone?” :: Radio Interview with Adam South and Don Salvatore from Living on Earth distributed by Public Radio International :: July 18, 2008 :: [ LISTEN or READ THE TRANSCRIPT ]
If you have participated in the Firefly Watch program, please tell us about your experience and results by posting a comment below.