Many of us have fond childhood memories of the जुनकिरी firefly, chasing these fascinating flashing bugs through fields and forests. Across the world and in Nepal, poets and singers have waxed eloquent about the blinking light of these nocturnal insects.
But for a creature so adored, there has not been much of an effort to study the science and chemistry behind their luminescence, their distribution, or why they have declined sharply in number.
Indeed, the bugs that were once ubiquitous in gardens, jungles, riverbanks, streets and playgrounds in Nepal have all but disappeared. Where did they all go?
Fireflies belong to a family of beetles called Lampyridae and existed alongside dinosaurs 100 million years ago. But habitat destruction, rampant pesticide use, light pollution and climate change now threaten to put the lights out on all 2,200 species of fireflies so far identified.
Fireflies are also ecologically important species as their decline indicate the degrading quality of wetlands. And yet, there is no detailed study about the status of the species in Nepal, their scope and habitat.
“Thousands of firefly species are found globally but the number of species and their diversity are unknown in Nepal. This is sad and researchers have not given any priority to these insects,” says Hum Gurung, Regional Project Manager with Birdlife International Asia who is promoting firefly tourism in Malaysia.
In the recent years, these charismatic beetles have turned into a major attraction for nature and wildlife tourists. In fact, their bioluminescent courtship displays draw over one million tourists annually to sites located in at least 12 countries, mostly in the Southeast Asia and North America.
A new study published on the journal Conservation Science and Practice provides the first comprehensive review of the geographic scope, magnitude, focal species, and other attributes of the major firefly tourism sites worldwide.