Fireflies, the Stars, and Dark Skies

The flashes of fireflies on a warm summer night create enchanting light shows. Fireflies exist on every continent, in North America they are most common in Eastern Canada and the United States. Ten species of fireflies in five genera have been recorded in British Columbia but adults of only two species produce flashed bioluminescent signals. Fireflies have captured the human imagination for centuries and have frequently been the focus of art, literature, and cultural traditions.

A jungle full of fireflies, few trees like this were really filled up with hundreds of fireflies in small area. They displayed a synchronized light pattern a mating time where males put up the light show to attract females. The moonlit forest added the fill light while the stars in background completed the frame to witness this most dramatic scene – Credit: Abhijit Juvekarf, Malshej, Ghat, India.7 Jun 2014.

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

Fireflies in the Garden by Robert Frost

This year’s World Firefly Day was on July 6-7, 2019 and the theme this year was “Fireflies need dark nights.” There is growing evidence that suggests light pollution contributes to the decline of firefly populations across the globe. Fireflies emit light to attract males, communicate, and defend territory. Scientists have found that light pollution reduces flashing activities in a fireflies.

The most important step to take to protect nocturnal species like fireflies from light pollution is to follow responsible lighting practices that reduce or eliminate unnecessary outdoor lighting. You can also fight light pollution by helping #MeasureTheSkyBC with you smart phone or tablet:

  1. Download the Lost of The Night app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store 
  2. Measure the sky glow at your location using the app on a night when the Moon is below the horizon – the dates Aug 22 – Aug 31 around the next new Moon are a great time to make measurements.
  3. Submit your measurement and send an email to [email protected] for a chance to win prizes. 

Another cultural connection between fireflies and space is the 2002-2003 TV serfies “Firefly” that follows the the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a “Firefly-class” spaceship.