Like many kids growing up, I played outside in the summer and caught fireflies in my backyard as a way for me to learn about and connect with nature. What I did not know about fireflies is that my hometown, Bethany Beach, has a firefly that is native to coastal Delaware.
The Bethany Beach firefly (Photuris bethaniensis) is a beetle that is active at night during the summer months of June and July and recognizable by its two bright green flashes. It has a tan or light brown body with black or dark brown markings on its back. The firefly thrives in freshwater wetlands along the southern Delaware shore. Most of these are found in between dunes where plants grow and organic materials can build up. Decades of explosive growth in housing in the Mid-Atlantic have led to the destruction of freshwater wetlands, making the existence of this firefly even more special.
Since these fireflies thrive in such a specific environment, the species has been on a decline, according to the Delaware chapter of the Sierra Club. With more people moving to and visiting coastal Delaware, there is more development, and less natural habitat for these bugs.
Development can also lower our groundwater levels and dries up the wetlands. The fireflies are also threatened by light pollution, decreased water quality and sea level rise from climate change.
I have lived in Bethany Beach for 17 years, and every year there seems to be more people and more construction. Living by the beach is enjoyable, but it is upsetting to see how the nature around us is being ruined.
Coastal neighborhoods built on wetlands have destroyed much of the firefly’s habitat. Many people are not aware of our own firefly and have no idea that building their summer house has affected the environment. Having never knowingly spotted a Bethany Beach firefly myself, I was unaware that my trips to the beach could be harming its existence.
In the future, I will be encouraging my family and friends to turn off our porch lights and follow the marked paths to the beach. The light pollution can affect how fireflies communicate with each other using their own light, according to Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The Xerces Society also recommends staying on the marked paths to the beach, in order to keep more traffic off the sand dunes and away from areas where firefly eggs and larvae could be laying.
It may seem silly to bring so much attention to a small bug, but the protection of this firefly brings protection for other parts of nature in Delaware. By preserving this firefly, we can protect our wetlands and water quality, because they are all related. If we lose this species, we could be losing any number of organisms that live in the wetlands because they are sharing their habitat. By changing policy, we can also work with construction and development groups to preserve the fireflies’ natural habitats. Protecting our wetlands will also help with water filtration and flood protection, a very important element in a beach town that easily floods like Bethany Beach.
To help the Bethany Beach firefly from going extinct, residents of Bethany Beach and Delaware need to act. Multiple conservation organizations have recognized this firefly as endangered, however, neither the United States Fish and Wildlife Service or the United States Endangered Species Act have the firefly listed as endangered.
Unfortunately, getting the firefly recognized as federally endangered is a slow process. Delawareans can support the conservation of this bug by encouraging policy to protect this species as well as our wetlands. We can ask local and state politicians to help, but the best protection would be federal recognition that this firefly is endangered. That would allow Delaware to prevent development on the wetlands so more fireflies could survive and hopefully multiply.
As a town with an influx of summer tourists, it is so important that every resident is aware of this bug and why it is heading toward extinction. If residents are aware, then it is easier to communicate with visitors and make the existence and decline of the firefly well known. The fact that Bethan Beach has its own firefly is not merely a fun fact. It is imperative that the town and its residents do everything to protect and support its existence, as its in our own best interest to do so.
Scarlett Wyrick is a contributing reporter for The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review staff.