Once they illuminated summer nights, people read with their radiance, and they were celebrated by everyone from William Shakespeare to Crawfoot, the 19th-century North American leader.
But the lights dimmed the light because of the cult of cleanliness in the countryside, the loss of wild meadows and light pollution.
Now hundreds of fireflies (Lampyris noctiluca) bred in captivity for release in two places this summer, in an attempt to revive the declining species.
More than 500 firefly larvae have already been released at the Elvetham Hotel in Hampshire, where wildflowers and clean shrubs are being restored. Hundreds more larvae and some brilliant adults will be released again at the hotel this summer, as well as at Combshead in Cornwall, on a restored farm and glamping.
The four-year reintroduction project is led by environmentalist Derek Gow, who owns Combeshead and is responsible for successful schemes to return water voles and beavers to the UK.
“These little things were objects of admiration,” Gav said. “Throughout their lives, people can remember how a father brought a friend to his bedroom in a jar of jam and lay in bed watching them glow. They were everywhere, flashing their way through eternity. With the help of overgrazing, cleaning the hedges and tidying up the countryside, we turned off the lights. “
Secular are not worms, but beetles, and only the flightless female glows to attract the male on summer nights. Although males fly, this species is known to be poorly distributed and therefore trapped in small areas of suitable habitat.
The larvae – friends of the gardener who are voracious predators of snails – need two years to mature, which makes them prone to destruction with increasingly intensive management of meadows with regular cutting of silage and hay.
A 2021 study found that the number of fireflies has declined markedly with increasing proximity to artificial lighting. Not only do night lights confuse men looking for females, but they can also make females dim the lights. The flightless female also will not depart from light pollution.
Taran Mataru, co-owner of the Elvetham Hotel and children’s author, said he was inspired to fund the restoration effort after discovering that the hotel could inspire William Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” featuring fireflies, after a rich a three-day summer party. there for Elizabeth I.
“It’s a fairytale castle in the south of England, and we wanted to make the garden look like a fairy tale, so I thought, why not bring back the only native of England glowing insect?” Said Matara.
He contacted many insect breeders who told him it was impossible to breed fireflies in captivity before discovering Gav on Twitter.
Environmentalist and conservationist Pete Cooper, who works at Gow, has already bred fireflies using a method he perfected during the pandemic, using YouTube textbooks from a firefighter keeper from Germany.
Firefly larvae are kept on coconut fiber bedding in plastic take-out tubs with a damp sponge to retain moisture, and are fed fresh snails – also bred for this purpose – every day during the growing season.
Cooper even took fireflies with him in a cold bag when he went to work so he could keep an eye on them and satisfy their voracious appetite for snails.
The Elvetham gardener collected the snails and left them in the release area for the 569 larvae to be released last summer. These larvae reach maturity and shine the following summer. The hotel also has a timing lighting system so as not to disturb the glowing females.
Conservationists want fireflies to be emissaries to restore “ordinary” local nature, to make churchyards, playgrounds and local meadows rich in animals again. Other species will help revive fireflies.
“These insects stimulate habitat restoration, which benefits many other species that love this messy mix. Where you have fireflies, you get slow worms, and reducing artificial lighting will also help bats, ”Cooper said.
At Combeshead, Cooper believes that the bare ground created by the introduction of Iron Age pigs on a farm – similar to wild boars – will be particularly attractive to females because their light may be easier to spot males when they glow in such an area.
Both Gow and Cooper hope that, if successful in these two sites, fireflies reintroduction could become more common if community conservationists and conservation groups form a species-led restoration of the species.
Gow said: “There is a powerful symbolism in the fixtures that goes out at a time when from an environmental point of view everything looks pretty bleak, so we believe this is something that could become a wider movement.
“If we really sort out the captivity and release, the students can move these things to the countryside. Why couldn’t it be what you do as a child that makes real sense? They will look at these tiny things that they let shine again and say, “We did it.” People need to have this formative experience if they want to take care of the things we share the planet with. ”
Secular in culture
“What is life? It’s a flash of fireflies at night. ”
Voranafut, leader of the First Nation of Siksika in the 19th century.
“We are all worms. But I think I’m a light worm. ”
Winston Churchill, in a friend’s note.
“Firefly shows that the morning is near / and the gin is fading its ineffective fire.”
The Ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
“And at night cut off your wax thighs / And light them in the fiery eyes of fireflies / That my love may sleep and rise.”
Titania in a dream on a summer night.