Firefly

West Virginia is home to about 40 species of firefly, also known as a lightning bug, but the state’s firefly population has been on the decline in recent years. The state Division of Natural Resources is hoping the public can help in figuring out why by collecting data on firefly sightings.

A citizen science project to learn more about the decline of West Virginia’s firefly population will soon resume, under the guidance of State Zoologist Mack Frantz and the state Division of Natural Resources.

West Virginia is believed to be home to about 40 species of fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, whose mate-attracting bioluminescent displays can soon be seen twinkling and glowing in the night sky at scattered, poorly lit areas across the state.

Fireflies are not flies, but soft-bodied beetles that use a light-producing chemical process to create flashing patterns, which are unique to each species.

West Virginia’s firefly population has been in decline in recent years. Possible causes include habitat loss, light pollution and pesticide use.

“Many people have fond memories of chasing lightning bugs when they were kids,” said Frantz. “We want to make sure these insects thrive so future generations can enjoy this magical experience.”

By collecting data on firefly sightings supplied by the public and mapping the results, DNR biologists hope to learn more about the scope of the insect’s decline in the state. They also hope to get a better handle on the number of species that make up the state’s lightning bug population and where they can be found.

One species of particular interest is the photinus carolinus. It is one of several North American species able to synchronize its flashing pattern, creating displays that attract thousands of visitors annually to known population hubs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest. The species may well exist in West Virginia, but so far has not been documented here.

Photinus carolinus is believed to favor heavily forested terrain near steams at elevations above 2,000 feet.

Guidelines for participating in the survey, along with a printable reporting form and information about firefly events, workshops and volunteer opportunities are available at wvdnr.gov/fireflies. Sightings may also be reported through Survey 123, downloadable from Apple App Store or Google Play.

Survey participants are encouraged to share photos on social media with the hashtag #LightUpWV.

For more information on the project, contact Frantz at mack.w.frantz@wv.gov or 304-637-0245.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer

@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.