James Lloyd (352) 392-1901, ext. 124
you want to know where all the fireflies have gone, the world's leading
authority on them has some advice: Look for them.
But you may have to look farther than your back yard.
of Florida entomologist James Lloyd has spent his life "chasing fireflies,"
as he calls his
work, and can tell you where to find dozens of species, including one named after him.
the nation's Firefly Belt, from the Big Bend area of North Florida to the
Swamp in South Georgia, there are plenty of fireflies to see. So why is firefly chasing becoming
an endangered rite of childhood?
there are many reasons people perceive that fireflies are vanishing, and
that none of them have to do with the actual disappearance of fireflies.
In an increasingly
urban world, there is more light pollution. Reluctant to compete with street
lamps, automobile headlights and security lights, fireflies sometimes flee suburbia.
there are cultural changes. On long summer evenings of yesteryear, parents
were outside in the vanishing hours of daylight, sharing stories with neighbors over the back fence,
chatting on front porches. Children ran free, chasing fireflies and collecting them in empty Mason
jars to put by their beds.
Today, people are more apt to be indoors at dusk, locked behind doors and watching television.
with more natural lawns may see fireflies from time to time and there are
be seen in rural areas. Lloyd says fireflies like minimally disturbed habitats like woodlands and
as Count Dracula but much more benign, Lloyd waits for sunset then turns
remote habitats into classrooms for Advanced Biology with Fireflies, one of the most popular
classes in UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. He thinks it is these firefly safaris in the
dark that prompt the waiting list for the class each semester.
bore them with lectures," Lloyd said. "I just chase fireflies and with
students I have a lot of good company."
gather as dusk falls and head to Lloyd's tried and true firefly-viewing
say they take the class because of Lloyd's reputation for making learning fun and for a chance to
chase lightningbugs and take part in a summer ritual as old as time.
studied fireflies for 35 years and said there is little hard data to show
that fireflies are
circumstantial evidence, there's no reason to believe they haven't dwindled,
urbanization, pollution and lower water tables," Lloyd said.
species that thrive in disturbed spaces, he says, but many do not, and
it is diversity of
the species that is threatened.
"Possibly some species are gone that we didn't even know we had," Lloyd said.
that makes fireflies light up has a medical use and has even prompted harvesting
fireflies in the Midwest. Although they have few natural enemies, human enemies who are paid
for each firefly tail probably have made a huge dent in some populations, Lloyd said. One woman
reportedly is responsible for capturing a million fireflies single-handedly.
tails contain the chemical, luciferin, and the enzyme, luciferase. These
molecules help in
coding genes, testing food for bacterial contamination and measuring effectiveness of some drugs
in treating tumors, among other applications.
fireflies for medical research, some rarer species may be inadvertently
Lloyd says. For protection, they may have to rely on the goodwill of generations with fond
memories of chasing lightningbugs on summer evenings.
"People seem to really like these things, kind of like they do dinosaurs," Lloyd said.
before the days of electricity, how bright the flash of a firefly was.
It must have been
really mysterious," Lloyd said. "These little insects are truly amazing."