You're not imagining it, there are fewer lightning bugs in Northeast Ohio

You're not imagining it, there are fewer lightning bugs in Northeast Ohio

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - If you have kids you may have heard this question already this summer, "Where are all the lightning bugs?"

We turned to our resident "bug doctor" to ask that very question. Dr. Gavin Svenson is the Assistant Director of Science, Curator and Head of Invertebrate Zoology for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

"Well, there is no clear answer and it is complicated. Most observations are anecdotal, but there is a general feeling that lighting bugs (fireflies) appear to be declining in numbers," he said.

Svenson explained it's hard to track exact population numbers. He suggested bugs in general are in decline.

"A lightning bug decline could be caused by loss of habitat, light pollution, insecticide use, or other factors," he said.

People may want to stop using insecticides on their lawns, to prevent the decline. While you may be trying to kill one bug, you might be taking out other bugs with it, he said.

"I would expect numbers to grow as we enter July."

One theory for the decline is light pollution.

More lights in our cities, on our houses and even headlights might be messing with why lighting bugs light up to begin with.

"They depend on their flashes to find mates and defend territory, so an abundance of additional lights might be as confusing as finding your lost keys in a room with strobe lights," he said.

Svenson spends a lot of time out in the wilderness, mainly tracking praying mantises, and says people may just need to be a little more patience.

"Personally, I have observed decent numbers of lighting bugs in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania over the past week and I would expect numbers to grow as we enter July," he said.

The lightning bug population really depends on heat. The population seems to peak around the end of June or early July.

What can you do to protect/attract fireflies?

  • Larvae of lighting bugs live in dead wood and leaves on the margins of water bodies, so leaving this material in place would provide habitat for a growing population.
  • Turn of lights at night around the outside of your home.
  • Go a year or two without insecticides and see if they return.

Cleveland Metroparks has a free event coming up on July 9 at the South Chagrin Reservation called "Fireflies under a full moon."

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