Firefly beetles ranks among the most attractive creatures in the world, with their illuminated courtship displays have now turned them into a popular attraction for wildlife tourists. In the first comprehensive review of firefly tourism, it was published in the journal Conservation science and practiceAn international team of biologists led by a researcher at Tufts University reveals that an estimated one million people now travel each year to watch bioluminescence shows from the tournament of about twenty species of fireflies around the world.
But the authors also point out that while this unique insect-based tourism can bring economic, social and psychological benefits to communities and tourists alike, it also threatens to extinguish some local firefly populations unless adequate protection is put in place.
“Through this review of the current state of firefly tourism and the degradation of their habitat health, we are making a call to action to engage local communities and governments, as well as tourists themselves, to act as keepers of fireflies,” said lead author Sarah Lewis, professor of biology at Tufts University and co-chair of the Federation’s Firefly Specialist Group. International Conservation Center (IUCN), which conducted the review. The IUCN Fireflies Group works to identify key threats and conservation issues facing fireflies in different geographic regions, and advocates for the most threatening species nationally and globally. Lewis’ previous work on fireflies with the IUCN attracted significant interest and dazzle among the public and other researchers, with media coverage including CNN and The Washington Post.
In recent years, the number of tourists has increased in several locations in Mexico, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and the United States. “In Mexico, the rapid growth of firefly tourism over the past decade has been exciting but also worrying,” said Tania Lopez-Palafox, a graduate student at the National University of Mexico and co-author of the review. “The COVID pandemic has given them a temporary respite, but we’ve seen the damage so much tourism can do.”
Targeting site managers, tour guides and tourists, the report highlights the need to recognize environmental requirements in all stages of a firefly’s life. To boost reproduction success for adult fireflies, sites must reduce light pollution: bright lights from buildings, vehicles, flashlights and even cell phones – all of which can disrupt firefly’s courtship rituals.
Protection of nearby habitats also plays an essential role. Fireflies spend most of their life cycle in the juvenile stage of larvae. These juveniles require several months or even years to develop into their adult form, and depending on the species, they spend this period living underground, in leaf litter or sometimes underwater. The authors describe former firefly sites along mangrove rivers where commercial development and excessive motorboat traffic degraded riverbank habitats that were essential to support firefly larvae.
In some locations, the reproductive cycle of groups of larvae is threatened by tourists who inadvertently trample female fireflies and the habitat of the larvae is degraded. Females of many species cannot fly and are therefore particularly vulnerable to tourist traffic. Learn more about the mating rituals of fireflies that the Tufts research team studied in this video.
The report noted the popularity of displays created by several species of simultaneous fireflies found in Southeast Asia and North America, capturing hundreds or thousands of male female fireflies – and tourists too – by twinkling their lights together in unison. According to co-author Anchana Thancharoen, lecturer at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, “With these mesmerizing lights, the firefly trees on display make the tourist fall in love at first sight. Our goal with this call to action is to channel this love in support of conservation efforts.”
Other recommendations by the authors include:
1) Conservation practices specifically designed to protect habitats so that all stages of life thrive
2) Engaging local communities as ecological and economic stakeholders
3) Extension training programs
4) Educational materials for visitors and best practices for transforming tourism behavior
Whether managed by local governments or managed by commercial companies, well-managed tourism should educate global visitors to become allies in protecting firefly populations.
“There is also a greater opportunity here,” Lewis said. “Fireflies have a special charm for people, and their fading lights form a clear and visible state of conservation. But fireflies can also be a glitch gate to attract tourists to interest in the conservation of many other insects, which may not be very attractive, but are still the building blocks of ecosystems. Health.