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Help document Utah's indigenous fireflies

Jun 15, 2018 12:51PM ● Published by City Journals Staff

Model firefly habitat exhibit at Natural History Museum of Utah. (Amy Green/City Journals)

 by Amy Green  |  a.green@mycityjournals.com

When it comes to Utah insects, a few on the easy-to-spot list would be grasshoppers, ants, wasps and boxelder bugs. Earwigs find a way to make a casual sashay up the walls here. Daddy long-legs seem to have a rockhound club in every valley window well. Mosquitos regularly perform a funky flash mob out on the lakes. Pill bugs hide smart and tight in our suburbia sidewalk cracks. Moths find their place of expiration in that common graveyard of sliding door tracks. 

We have our predictable Utah creepy-crawlies. But, don’t let the stink bug you accidentally squashed curb your wild creature enthusiasm. It’s a good time to see something new.

There are luminous beetle characters showing up on the Utah scene—fireflies. They are a curious thing, flashing their creature rhythm of morse-style code. They are convincing many that there is more biodiversity to our state than we may think. 

Utah entomologists and insect experts have a proposition for local residents. Researchers can use our assistance for a firefly citizen science project. The Natural History Museum of Utah and BYU specialists have merged efforts to find and observe firefly populations, and they’re looking for help. To badly mis-quote a 1990s hit TLC song… “Don’t go chasing waterfalls.” Please stick to the wetlands and the mud that you’re used to, and help find fireflies. 

You can visit the citizen project details here: https://nhmu.utah.edu/fireflies, where you can learn about these interesting beetles, submit sightings and view a firefly map of where people have observed them. The map has a spread-out selection of possible places to find them. The project can help offer clues of where more might be found. For those interested in experiencing creatures behind glass, there is a temporary firefly exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah.     

When asked whether fireflies are native or invasive to Utah, Christy Bills, entomology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Utah, clarifies that fireflies are in fact, indigenous. 

“They’ve been here forever,” she said. “They’re not strong flyers. Once they’re in an area, they can’t move away from that area very successfully.” 

She explained how some people believe anecdotes of how their ancestors must have brought fireflies to Utah in a jar. It’s not common to spot a firefly though. 

“We don’t know about them, but farmers who go out to their pastures at night—they have known about them,” Bills noted. 

Just one firefly logged to the map gives a whole lot of data. There’s hope to find more and to involve resident scientists or even just outdoor enthusiasts to take on new purpose in their adventures. It could be a fun outing to search, find, get pictures of and actually log a firefly onto the community map.

It’s likely that more firefly sightings would be in areas with wet reeds, near still waters and around wild corn dogs (cattails). These are the best places to spot them. Head toward muddy areas.

“Swaner Preserve (Park City), Spring Lake (near Provo) and Nibley (Cache County) are three places to possibly see them,” Bills said. “But, you never know. I hate to say, ‘Go there, and you’ll see one.’ You can never shop the wild.” Go out during night-time hours, and it seems like one might want a headlamp and sturdy galoshes to go searching. 

If you go firefly spotting, remember to wear proper bug repellant, full coverage outerwear and choose a safe plan. Let others know where you’re going. These things are always best done in groups and with an adult. 

If you see fireflies, “Leave them alone,” Bills said. “We have the web farm (website above) for people to report that they’ve seen them. We never harm the population." The few that are taken by scientists are kept in a specimen collection and used for important nationwide research. 

“They are not an endangered species,” Bills said. No one is going to have to give up their property for government scrutiny, or areas won’t become restricted if fireflies are spotted. Be careful not to trespass on others’ privacy though. Go firefly searching in public areas. 

Scientists are calling for those who enjoy a tiny species hunt to help communicate where a firefly has been seen. Even if we can only spot one—playing the fiddle, living inside a giant peach or eating its way through a wild corn dog. Each glowing firefly has loads of valuable information to offer us, with just one more dazzling dot on the map.

 

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