Rare fireflies sync up in northern Georgia | national news

ATHENS – It was a perfect evening as night dropped its curtain on the sun and dusk awoke the forest.

Standing in the new darkness of a 100-acre woods on a recent summer evening, a group of University of Georgia entomology graduate students witnessed magic in the air—literally—so as thousands of fireflies of different species rose from the forest floor to flash their luminescent love songs to hopeful friends hidden below.

The group was invited by a local landowner and a citizen entomologist to experience the masses of glittering insects, some of which are rare species, an experiential learning encounter of what seems supernatural.

Amid the ancient chorus of nocturnal creatures gathering pace for the evening, the young scientists watched silently. But soon, audible gasps were added to the symphony of sounds and lights – an instinctive response to the enchanted forest around them, their gathering nets forgotten for a moment.

The pupils’ curiosity quickly took over and they began to ask questions of their host, who pointed them to the different species, best identified by their pattern of light flashes. He grew up on this earth. He knows his fireflies by name and knows where they live.

This diverse property he calls “Springwood” is a sanctuary for several species of fireflies. Habitat variety is crucial for different populations, as individual firefly species are picky about where they thrive.

Other species the students witnessed were bush babies, big dippers, candle lanterns, rapid 5s and the rarest of them all, Photuris forresti, better known as the loopy 5.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the rare loopy 5 have the most photogenic flash train and the coolest name,” their host said of the firefly population discovered last year on the other side. from the property’s pond, attracted by the moist habitat they prefer.

“I also really like the hatching of the bush babies – the density of their numbers is thick enough to rival your childhood memories of being engulfed in lightning bugs.”

The Firefly Expedition Party gathers on the property while wearing insect collection nets and petting two yellow dogs

“This trip really showed me the importance of citizen scientists observing their surroundings, being curious, and reporting their findings,” said Kelly Tims, a PhD student in entomology. “(The host) told me he didn’t know anything about fireflies before, but now he’s able to identify 11 species in his garden.”

The students shook themselves out of their trance, remembering their nets and the opportunity to pack samples for their collections. Along with UGA entomology professor Joe McHugh, the host began showing students how to identify different species by their flashes.

Armed with a little extra knowledge of firefly identification and a whole lot of enthusiasm, the students and McHugh scattered down the dirt road and into the woods, hoping for a successful hunt.

“Opportunities like this add so much joy to my educational experience,” Tims said. “We are in this department because we are passionate about insects and knowledge, so being able to see insects in the field, observe a natural phenomenon and talk to other like-minded people about what we have seen, it that’s really what it’s all about.”

Once the samples were collected and the flashes began to subside for the night, the host surprised the students with a boat ride on his pond to see the rarest fireflies recently discovered and documented on his property. – the loopy 5s.

This nighttime boat ride was the highlight of the trip for Tristen Dittman, an MSc entomology student.

“The coolest species were the 5 boobies – the ones who liked to hang out above the lake,” she said. “Their flashes were very distinct, with one long upward flash followed by three individual flashes. It was very cool to see something you don’t find in a lot of other places.”

Tims agreed, his eyes lighting up.

“Climbing in canoes with new friends and paddling through a dark, unfamiliar pond where you’re surrounded by chirping frogs and trees, all for a glimpse of the rare loopy fireflies 5? Definitely worth it,” she said.

As the evening drew to a close, with jars, flasks and souvenirs collected, the group returned to Athens to reflect on their experience.

“This trip really showed me the importance of citizen scientists observing their surroundings, being curious, and reporting their findings,” Tims said. “This information is invaluable to taxonomists like Dr. McHugh who work to document and preserve the diversity that exists all around us.

“And the best way for that to happen is for all of us to participate and contribute our curiosity to science.”

All agree.

It was a perfect evening. It was magical.

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