Browse By

The Extinction of Fireflies

Written by Erin Yoo

America’s favorite insect is going extinct. Small but significant, fireflies are cherished throughout America and the Western hemisphere. There’s a reason that movies, characters, companies, and conventions are named and branded after fireflies instead of other insects, such as cockroaches. The soft, magical glow produced by the underbelly of the firefly is one of the most distinctive traits about fireflies that attract young and old, especially at night.  

The magical bioluminescence that fireflies produce is formed when multiple chemicals combine in the belly of a firefly. Oxygen, calcium, ATP (adenosine triphosphate), luciferin, and luciferase react to form the light that captivates people all around the world. When the light is produced, it actually gives off cold energy instead of heat (like a traditional lightbulb). If the firefly produced heat while lighting up, it wouldn’t survive the temperature. However, fireflies don’t have to change their breathing rate to control oxygen intake and maintain their captivating glow. This means they don’t have to breath super fast or super slow to flash a specific pattern. Oxygen intake is managed by nitric oxide within the insects, so flashing their lights doesn’t affect their breathing rate. These light patterns help the flies attract mates for reproduction, identify different members of their species, signal danger, and even express their emotions. Ecological traits like these are what makes the natural world so entrancing and fascinating.

Unfortunately, the entrancing fauna on Earth is being invaded and destroyed by human endeavors. Habitat destruction, artificial light, and pesticides have been killing more and more fireflies around the world. For example, the Pteroptyx tener firefly population in Malaysia, which commonly inhabits  mangrove trees, declined significantly after mangrove forests were destroyed. Some firefly populations, such as the females of the Phausis reticulata species, died with their habitats because they are flightless and could not reach safety in time. Artificial lighting, including eco-friendly LEDs, also interferes with mating practices of fireflies, further declining their population. 

On top of that, insecticides harm and destroy fireflies, specifically larvae. The impacts of the declining fireflies are not just affecting biodiversity, but also ecotourism. Ecotourism is a branch of tourism that lets people enjoy nature and encourages preservation of the environment. It’s a combination of environmental education and awareness and sightseeing (What 1). Firefly tourism specifically is very popular in Asian countries. Tourists love to see the glowing dots in the night sky, such as in Picture 1 (Sara 1). However, excited visitors can damage firefly habitats, which threaten firefly populations. Ecotourism leads to habitat destruction, which decreases the number of firefly populations and individual organisms, which leads to a decrease in tourists. It is this cycle that perpetuates the oncoming extinction of fireflies and many other beautiful animals.

Picture 1.

Although a few dying fireflies may not sound like a dire situation, the truth is that firefly populations all around the world are being threatened due to habitat destruction, light pollution, and pesticide use. The wonder that fireflies bring to people, as well as the ecological benefits they bring to their environment, highlights their importance in this world. 

These tiny, important creatures also have cultural significance. Stefan Ineichen’s presentation, “Light into Darkness: The Significance of Glowworms and Fireflies in European Culture”, explains how fireflies appear more often than you think in cultural pieces, such as paintings and advertisements, stating, 

“The connotations lead to essential fields of human experience like hope and doom, agriculture and habitat change, love and sexuality and last but not least to the narrowness of our words, our cognition and even the fleetingness of our life. Although the observer is normally not aware of the full richness of significance, the extraordinary complexity of connotations is an important factor for the fascination produced by fireflies during summer nights.” 

Clearly, fireflies matter to the human species in an emotional, personal way, and a world without natural fairy lights will be hard to imagine for many people. Fortunately, there are many ways to combat the threat of firefly extinction, including, but not limited to, eliminating pesticide use, reducing unnecessary light emissions, and halting damaging endeavors such as deforestation. Like Sonny Wong from the Malaysian Nature Society states, “We want to keep fireflies lighting up our nights for a long, long time,” not only will these solutions keep fireflies safe, but they will contribute to a healthier planet overall.

Works Cited

“How and Why Do Fireflies Light up?” Scientific American, Scientific American, 5 Sept. 2005,

 Ineichen, Stefan. “Light into Darkness: The Significance of Glowworms and Fireflies in European Culture.” PowerPoint presentation.

Sara M Lewis, Choong Hay Wong, Avalon C S Owens, Candace Fallon, Sarina Jepsen, Anchana Thancharoen, Chiahsiung Wu, Raphael De Cock, Martin Novák, Tania López-Palafox, Veronica Khoo, J Michael Reed, A Global Perspective on Firefly Extinction Threats, BioScience, Volume 70, Issue 2, February 2020, Pages 157–167,

 Tufts University. “Lights out? Fireflies face extinction threats of habitat loss, light pollution, pesticides.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2020. 

“What Is Ecotourism? Principles, Importance and Benefits of Ecotourism.” Conserve Energy Future, 23 Dec. 2017, 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *