One summer spent in Arkansas gave me memories of fireflies that can’t be reproduced for the grandchildren. Oh, Arkansas is still there even if the farm has long since been sold and the grandparents gone to glory. But the summer nights were special for a particular reason. Granddad Kennedy didn’t believe in lighting up the entire farm with those night lights up on huge electric poles. Certainly the chicken houses were well lit, but the front lawn and the horse trap out in front of the barn were pools of darkness lined by huge trees. And they sparkled at night with the flashing of fireflies.
In Texas it always seemed to be too dry to think about fireflies, but northwest Arkansas was almost juicy with moisture. The fireflies seemed to like it, anyway. We would catch them—probably mostly males—and put some in a jar for a while before we turned them loose. They could never have produced enough light to show a path or anything of that nature, but they were purely fun to catch and imagine as our own personal lanterns.
Years ago our children were able to catch some fireflies out in the backyard or down toward the lake on the Fenoglio’s lawn. Mrs. Fenoglio found their attempts as amusing as we did and let them run around all over her hill. And the fireflies were great fun to chase. But something has happened to the fireflies. At first I thought it might have something to do with the spraying for the mosquitoes that has caused them to disappear. But a little research has given me more things to consider.
According to an Associated Press article, fireflies have declined as much as 70 percent in some areas. Part of the reason is due to loss of habitat—housing projects built in creek beds. Part of the loss is due to lights—yes, lights. Fireflies need darkness to find their mates. Well, duh. That makes sense. But if one of these huge, oversized, overpriced houses has 32 big lights shining to show off its ostentatiousness, then the firefly doesn’t have a chance to be even a tiny bit of a showoff for his potential mate. If insects like the firefly don’t mate, we lose another species.
Ok, so the loss of one species of firefly out of 2,000 may not sound like a big deal in the overall picture of the insect world. It only matters if one is a member of that species, I suppose. But if we are so callous as to ignore our responsibility to the survival of the smallest things, what does that say about our stewardship of the larger things of life?
Oh, and I plan to find a book to explain fireflies to the grandchildren. Otherwise they may never have any idea of what they have missed.