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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Scientists: Firefly numbers on the decline or are they?

COLUMBUS, Ohio, July 26 (UPI) -- "The number of fireflies lighting up the night throughout the United States appears to be declining, scientists say.

Firefly researcher Marc Branham said when compared with the appearance of fireflies from a decade or two ago, the current natural population of the insect species appears to have dropped significantly, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch said Sunday.
"There certainly appear to be fewer fireflies out now as opposed to 10 or 20-some years ago," the University of Florida assistant professor of entomology said." source:

Apparently experts in the USA do not know why the population of fireflies is now in a state of decline. They are even seeking the help of the public to chart personal observation of fireflies and send the information to experts,so experts can get a grasp of how severe the decline is. The question of course is why has the number of fireflies suddenly declining in the USA? In Malaysia, fireflies are a major tourist attraction, and in this country too, firefly populations have diminished of late. Experts there blame the decline in the firefly population to "large-scale land clearing,. Apparently in Malaysia a huge riverside firefly colony, which lies about 90 minutes' drive from Kuala Lumpur, is being threatened with decimation because the area is under "development" for human use. In fact, this area has been declared a firefly sanctuary by the Malaysian Government, yet despite this declaration, almost 95 acres (38 hectares) of land along the Selangor river had been cleared of the trees in which fireflies live. (source:

So here again we have human activity directly linked to a decline in a population of another species of life on the planet. What chance does a colony of fireflies have against human greed and human desires? Even though the area has been legally declared a santuctuary, it is being threatened with extinction. Greedy human land developers should not be able to develop this land in Malaysia when it has already been declared a sanctuary! At least in Malaysia the firefly population appears to have a chance to survive. I say this because in the article from it is stated:

" The Selangor state government, won in elections last year by the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, is to impose an immediate stop-work order along the river to save the insects, she said.
"We will also begin immediate planting of sagu, berembang, nipah and rembau (trees) which are frequented by the fireflies, to boost their population," stated Elizabeth Wong, who heads tourism and environmental affairs in the state of Selangor, which surrounds Malaysia's capital.

Fireflies have just as much right to be on the planet as we humans. The problem is that that this planet has too many human beings on it as it is!! Possibly there are other reasons for the decline in the population of fireflies in the parts of the USA and in Malaysia. However, in direct contrast to this decline of populations of fireflies in some parts of the US, in other areas of the United States, according to article, "Fireflies offer bang for the bug." written by Roger Buddenberg, WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER, "The population of fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, shows “a tremendous year-to-year variation,” for reasons that are not well understood, states Ted Burk, a Creighton University biology professor whose specialties include insects.Scientists don't fully understand why that population varies so greatly — up to perhaps a tenfold difference from year to year, Burk said. In Nebraska and in Washington D.C. the population of fireflies has for some reason exploded this year. (source:"

So we have one group of scientists contradicting another....such is the nature of science.Until a better understanding of fireflies is undertaken in a systematic way, scientists will continue to contradict each other regarding the true size of the firefly population in various areas of the world.

One interesting fact concerning fireflies is that fireflies are not flies at all! Fireflies are insects belonging to BEETLE (Scientific name:Coleoptera ) Family. Their other names are glowworm , or Lightning Bug.It is known that Fireflies Larvae and eggs also glow, although it is unknown as to why the eggs and larvae are bioluminescent. There are more species of beetles on the planet than any other kind of insect (remember this if you want to win at the game Trivial Pursuit as this question is asked in that game! :) . There are around 2000 species of fireflies found in tropical and temperate regions.
Both male and female are luminous, meaning that they light up. The rhythmic flashing patterns that they make are different depending on sex and species.
Firefly glows a bright yellow-green color. The firefly can control this glowing effect. The brightness of a single firefly is 1/40 of a candle. Scientists hypothesise that fireflies use their glow to attract other fireflies. Fireflies produce their light by breathing oxygen, through the abdominal trachea, or holes, and then the oxygen combines with a substance called luciferin in the presence of the enzyme luciferase, in special cells called photocytes.
There are several theories on how fireflies control the "on" and "off" of their photic organs. Nobody still exactly knows how do they do it?
The "Oxygen Control Theory" is based on the firefly turning on and off its light by controlling the oxygen supply to the photic organ .
The "Neural Activation Theory" hypothesizes that fireflies have neural control of structures called "tracheal end cells" . These cells release a messenger molecule in the photic organ which initiates the activation of the chemical reaction.
Regardless of how fireflies control the "on" and "off" of their bioluminescence, the production of light in the above manner is very efficient, with very little heat being given off as wasted energy.

Almost 100% of a firefly’s light energy is expended as light instead of heat. A light bulb, on the other hand, expends only about 10% of its energy as light while the other 90% produces heat.
The part of a firefly’s body which lights up is almost ½ of their body weight.

The firefly is beneficial ecologically.
Gardeners value fireflies, because the larvae and adults of some species eat so many snails, slugs, and cutworms.
Fireflies have also been key players in the research of chemists, geneticists, and space scientists.
Chemists synthesize the light producing chemicals to make glow sticks .
Geneticists inject the gene that makes luciferase into disease-causing organisms, in order to test the effectiveness of drug treatments. Focusing mainly on tuberculosis and malaria, scientists inject the gene, and when it produces luciferase, the cells of the pathogen will glow. Various drugs are applied. If cells no longer glow, it means that the necessary ATP has been damaged, and therefore the organism will not survive.
NASA scientists theorize that these light-producing chemicals may be useful for finding extraterrestrial life. The chemicals could be mixed with Martian soil, for example, and used to test for the presence of ATP, necessary for life as we know it.


Photos:(a)Pteroptyx malaccae in a mangrove apple tree all flashing in perfect synchrony.

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.