In last month’s issue, we busted a few myths about fireflies and talked about how they glow in the dark. It’s time to find out why these beautiful insects no longer shine the way they used to.

Mysterious disappearance

Nobody knows why fireflies are disappearing. However, the general agreement is that human community development and pollution are to blame, according to the website of Firefly Conservation and Research.

Human Development

Fireflies need forests, fields, marshes and other wooded areas with organic litter and rotting wood that so they can survive while they are still in their larval stage. It’s also important to remember that firefly larvae don’t move much from the area where they are hatched. They also need a humid atmosphere and standing water in one form or another, such as ponds and streams.

Modern human community development, however, literally builds over these natural habitats for fireflies. It’s no surprise, then, that firefly-rich areas tend to lose their firefly populations once they become urbanized. It’s the same concern for firefly populations near water as the development of waterways, the boat traffic, and noise all contribute to making former habitats unlivable for firefly larvae.

Light interference

Community development has also contributed another possible problem for fireflies: too much light. Fireflies use their lights to communicate and find possible mates. They even have a language of sorts based on the flashing patterns they produce. These patterns can be a callout to specific fireflies — such as when they are looking for mates — or they can be messages to the whole community of fireflies, such as when they want to warn others.

However, the artificial lights caused by human communities, towns, and cities probably interfere with their light communication network. It has been observed, for example, that their synchronized light patterns are disrupted by a passing car with its headlights switched on.

All these lead to two effects: fewer mating pairs finding each other and more fireflies withdrawing from light-disruptive areas, going further and further away from human communities.

How can we bring firefly populations back up?

Scientists have yet to say definitively how to help preserve firefly habitats, but the following information from Firefly Conservation and Research and a 2016 article by George and Becky Lohmiller for The Old Farmer’s Almanac may be helpful to communities that wish to preserve their firefly populations.

Some like it hot

Fireflies like tropical and temperate regions, and as such, they love warm, humid areas. Here in the Philippines, one should take note about how a firefly habitat keeps the humidity up.

Nature knows best

Fireflies like to stay in forests, fields, and marshes. They also prefer areas near lakes, rivers, ponds, streams, and standing pools.

In keeping with their preferences for high humidity, this makes sense. Also, depending on the species, firefly larvae live either in the water, or in the trees.

Here’s the (sh)rub

If you want to attract fireflies in the general area to a specific place, it’s important to observe which kinds of shrubs and trees they hide in during the day. Plant some near areas where the environment is conducive for larvae to live in.

Wet and wild

It’s important to have some parts of the remaining habitat grow wild, as fireflies like perching in long leaves, so they can “twinkle” and find their mates.

Fake it ‘til you make it

In some instances where there are no ponds or streams nearby, a man-made water source might do the trick. Create some artificial ones like birdbaths near the prescribed plants.

Put away the pesticides

Finally, don’t be surprised if there are no fireflies in areas where pesticides are used, for obvious reasons.

Where in the Philippines can I view fireflies?

Palawan

The Iwahig Firefly Watching Station in Palawan is a project in conjunction with Puerto Princesa’s local government. The tours are organized and somewhat strict, so it’s a good idea to schedule in advance. The tour lasts about the better part of an hour. You can go through your tourist guide or operator, or you can contact 0916 780 9118 or 0929 616 5990.

Sorsogon

Donsol in Sorsogon has a river tour for viewing fireflies. Viewing can be arranged with the Tourism Center, the same place for registering for butanding encounters. Do be prepared for transport costs and a registration fee. Bring about PHP 2000, just to be sure.

Bohol

There are multiple sites in Bohol where one can observe fireflies, such as along the Abatan River, the Postan Forest, and other areas in Laoay. It’s a good idea to contact the local tourism offices there for more information.

Three areas are known for their firefly populations and have the facilities for touring the area properly, as reported by Mavic Conde in a 2015 Rappler article.

Do take note that there are other places in the country where one can observe fireflies, such as Siquijor, Coron in Palawan, Romblon in Magdiwang, and Sibuyan Island.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s April 2019 issue.