Scientists concerned by reports from the public that they are seeing fewer of the luminous insects each summer have turned to a network of backyard volunteers spanning much of the nation to track their range and numbers.
The yellow green streaks of fireflies that bring a magical air to summer nights, inspire camp songs and often end up in jars in children’s bedrooms may be flickering out in the nation’s backyards as suburban sprawl encroaches their habitats.
Helen Mester of South Bend, Indiana, is one of about 700 volunteers who entered observations this summer of firefly numbers, the color of their lights and flash patterns into the online database maintained by Firefly Watch, which is sponsored by the Boston Museum of Science.
The 54 year old retiree has counted fireflies for three years for the program from her living room window or her deck, watching the lights that lead males to females for mating.
She’s now adept at identifying a common Midwestern firefly often called the Big Dipper firefly by the upside down “J” light trail its males make as they flash by.
She then watches for their female love interests to reply with two blinks from their perch on shrubs or trees.
Their observations may shed light on whether fireflies, luminous insects’ population declining, a trend that could dwindle the targets for the child rite of passage of chasing fireflies.
As the summer time marks its unofficial end in America, the Firefly Watch volunteers’ work is winding down now that the insect’s annual light show is over in all but southern states.