Hi, My name is Christy Bills, I am the entomologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
I am excited to talk about the Utah Firefly citizens science project. A lot of people are surprised to know that we have fireflies in Utah, but we actually have them in 20 of the 29 counties, that we’ve discovered so far. People are often surprised that they’re here, and they think that they’ve just arrived but they haven’t. They like to live in marshy areas, and they are only adults from late May to early July, so that’s why people often don’t see them, because people aren’t usually recreating in marshy areas.
The firefly citizens science project asks people to report when they see them to the museums website, and that allows us as researchers to know where they are so we can track their activity. We’ve been collecting data on them for 4 or 5 years and learning more about them over that time period.
I’ve actually gone through old newspapers that have been digitized online, and looked for any reference to fireflies or lightning bugs, and I have found zero reference dating back 100 years. However, when you actually talk to people in rural communities who have pastures and farms, it turns out anecdotally a lot of people know about them. This is a really wonderful way of people bridging the academic rural divide, and finding out that people in these communities have a wealth of knowledge that we can draw from, and they’ll say, “Oh yeah my grandpa always had them in the orchard,” or “We always knew that they were there,” so it turns out people always knew about them. Not a lot of people, but enough people.
People have anecdotes about knowing about them in urban areas, where there are clearly not anymore because of development and light pollution. That helps us also know what factors make them go away.
More information about the project is available, at NHMU.UTAH.EDU/fireflies.
I’m Christy Bills and I’m wild about Utah.
Image: Courtesy & Copyright BJ Nicholls, Photographer
Text: Christy Bills, Entomologist, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/newsdesk/experts/christy-bills
Sources & Additional Reading
Western Firefly Project: A Community Science Initiative, Natural History Museum of Utah. https://nhmu.utah.edu/fireflies/
Hellstern, Ron, June Fireflies, Wild About Utah, June 19, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/june-fireflies/
Strand, Holly, Firefly Light, Wild About Utah, Jun 20, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/firefly-light/
Buschman, L L. Biology of the firefly Pyractomena lucifera (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Florida Entomologist 67.4 (1984): 529-542.
Lloyd, James E., 1964. Notes on Flash Communication in the Firefly Pyractomena dispersa (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Volume 57, Number 2, March 1964 , pp. 260-261. (James Lloyd is a leading authority on fireflies. He retired from academic duty at the University of FL, but here is a web page with some of his wisdom and musings. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/lloyd/firefly/
(Boston) Museum of Science Firefly Watch
Volunteers help citizen scientists track firefly occurrences.
National Geographic. Firefly (Lightning Bug) Lampyridae, https://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/firefly/
Phys.org news service. Jun 26, 2012. Romancing the firefly: New insights into what goes on when the lights go off. https://phys.org/news/2012-06-romancing-firefly-insights.html#inlRlv
Stanger-Hall, Kathrin F., James E. Lloyd, David M. Hillis. 2007. Phylogeny of North American fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): Implications for the evolution of light signals. In Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 45 (2007) 33-49.
Utah State University Insect Collection has over 117 cabinets housing approximately two million pinned insects and 35,000 microscope slides. Location: Room 240, Biology and Natural Resources Bldg.; Telephone: 435-797-0358
Clayton Gefre, Sparks Fly: Researchers track firefly populations across Utah, The Herald Journal, https://news.hjnews.com/allaccess/sparks-fly-researchers-track-firefly-populations-across-utah/article_270ac8b9-3d3f-5a01-9b5b-ac22e89a54bb.html
Natalie Crofts, New Website Tracks Utah Firefly Sightings, KSL, https://www.ksl.com/?sid=34439516