May 22, 2024 - News

Lightning bugs are under threat, but Richmonders can create the right environment for them to thrive

: Swarms of fireflies light up a forest at South China National Botanical Garden on May 15, 2023 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. (Photo by

Lightning bugs swarming in a forest. Photo: Wang Manchang/VCG via Getty Images

Lightning bugs — those glowing harbingers of summer and grand marshals of childhood games of chase — are under threat, and some species are even at risk of possible extinction.

Why it matters: We're entering prime firefly-watching season, but many locals may not catch a glimpse of them this year, or in the future.

The big picture: These blinking beetles go by many names — lightning bugs, fireflies, glowworms, Golden Sparklers and fire bugs, to name a few — but whatever you call them, their numbers are dwindling, according to experts.

Zoom in: Loss of habitat is the biggest threat to lightning bugs, Eric Day, Virginia Tech's Insect ID Lab manager, tells Axios.

  • That's because the conditions they need to thrive — cold winters, hot and humid summers, damp areas with a variety of native plants or brush, and dark nights — are rapidly disappearing.
  • Commercial and housing developments — building on the land where lightning bugs once flourished — is the chief culprit behind their dwindling habitats, Day says.
  • Highly manicured suburban lawns, the pesticides and chemicals that help keep them that way, and the ever-present intrusion of artificial lights, also contribute to the destruction of their one-time homes.

Yes, but: Day says it's way too soon to sound the extinction alarm for these luminous insects. Their numbers are diminishing, yes, but they're still all around us — if you know where to look.

  • "Whole swaths of rural Virginia are still really good for watching fireflies," Day says. "Or driving along roads that follow lakes or creeks."

Plus, there are simple ways locals can help create the right environment in their own backyards, like leaving a section of lawn unmanaged, turning off outside lights, and laying off the pesticides.

  • And then there's the easiest thing folks can do to try to spy lightning bugs: Slow down, go outside, sit on the porch and "take some time to see what's out there," Day says. You might be surprised what you see.

What we're watching: If you want to be guaranteed to see some fireflies this year, check out Virginia State Parks' annual Firefly Festival, held over two days at High Bridge Trail State Park near Farmville.

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