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Fireflies May Soon Go Dark Due to a Big Triple Threat

Researchers warn of possible extinction due to habitat loss, artificial light, and pesticides
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2020 8:48 AM CST
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Stock photo.   (Getty Images/ruiruito)

(Newser) – There’s a "quiet apocalypse" happening among insect populations around the world, and fireflies may soon be the next to see their lights dimmed for good. New research out of Tufts University published in the journal BioScience warns that the world’s 2,000 or so species of the bioluminescent beetles—also called lightning bugs in some parts—are in danger of extinction. To figure out what’s putting fireflies at risk, researchers distributed a survey to entomology experts well versed in firefly behavior, ecology, and conservation, asking for their opinions on what firefly populations should be worried about. The top three threats that emerged: pesticides, habitat loss, and pollution from artificial lights such as street lights, commercial signs, and sky glow.

Habitat loss was deemed the biggest threat by the 50 or so respondents. "Some species get hit especially hard by habitat loss because they need specific conditions to complete their life cycle," study lead author Sara Lewis says in a release. Artificial light, meanwhile, which CNN notes has grown exponentially over the past century, is considered to be the biggest buzzkill when it comes to courtship. "In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms—including our own—light pollution really messes up firefly mating rituals," study co-author Avalon Owens adds in the release. What's known as "firefly tourism" (where people converge to admire the fireflies) is also hastening their demise, as habitats and the bugs themselves get literally squashed. The researchers hope their work will raise awareness of the issue. "We want to keep fireflies lighting up our nights for a long, long time," co-author Sonny Wong tells CNN. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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