07.03.1997 Get Back To Nature To Chase Fireflies, UF Expert Says

              Cindy Spence

                  James Lloyd (352) 392-1901, ext. 124

           GAINESVILLE---If you want to know where all the fireflies have gone, the world's leading
           authority on them has some advice: Look for them.

           But you may have to look farther than your back yard.

           University of Florida entomologist James Lloyd has spent his life "chasing fireflies," as he calls his
           work, and can tell you where to find dozens of species, including one named after him.

           Here in the nation's Firefly Belt, from the Big Bend area of North Florida to the Okefenokee
           Swamp in South Georgia, there are plenty of fireflies to see. So why is firefly chasing becoming
           an endangered rite of childhood?

           Lloyd says there are many reasons people perceive that fireflies are vanishing, and it's possible
           that none of them have to do with the actual disappearance of fireflies.

           In an increasingly urban world, there is more light pollution. Reluctant to compete with street
           lamps, automobile headlights and security lights, fireflies sometimes flee suburbia.

           And then there are cultural changes. On long summer evenings of yesteryear, parents and children
           were outside in the vanishing hours of daylight, sharing stories with neighbors over the back fence,
           chatting on front porches. Children ran free, chasing fireflies and collecting them in empty Mason
           jars to put by their beds.

           Today, people are more apt to be indoors at dusk, locked behind doors and watching television.

           City dwellers with more natural lawns may see fireflies from time to time and there are plenty to
           be seen in rural areas. Lloyd says fireflies like minimally disturbed habitats like woodlands and

           As nocturnal as Count Dracula but much more benign, Lloyd waits for sunset then turns such
           remote habitats into classrooms for Advanced Biology with Fireflies, one of the most popular
           classes in UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. He thinks it is these firefly safaris in the
           dark that prompt the waiting list for the class each semester.

           "I don't bore them with lectures," Lloyd said. "I just chase fireflies and with these honors
           students I have a lot of good company."

           The students gather as dusk falls and head to Lloyd's tried and true firefly-viewing venues. Most
           say they take the class because of Lloyd's reputation for making learning fun and for a chance to
           chase lightningbugs and take part in a summer ritual as old as time.

           Lloyd has studied fireflies for 35 years and said there is little hard data to show that fireflies are

           "Yet, from circumstantial evidence, there's no reason to believe they haven't dwindled, with
           urbanization, pollution and lower water tables," Lloyd said.

           There are species that thrive in disturbed spaces, he says, but many do not, and it is diversity of
           the species that is threatened.

           "Possibly some species are gone that we didn't even know we had," Lloyd said.

           The chemical that makes fireflies light up has a medical use and has even prompted harvesting of
           fireflies in the Midwest. Although they have few natural enemies, human enemies who are paid
           for each firefly tail probably have made a huge dent in some populations, Lloyd said. One woman
           reportedly is responsible for capturing a million fireflies single-handedly.

           Firefly tails contain the chemical, luciferin, and the enzyme, luciferase. These molecules help in
           coding genes, testing food for bacterial contamination and measuring effectiveness of some drugs
           in treating tumors, among other applications.

           In harvesting fireflies for medical research, some rarer species may be inadvertently harmed,
           Lloyd says. For protection, they may have to rely on the goodwill of generations with fond
           memories of chasing lightningbugs on summer evenings.

           "People seem to really like these things, kind of like they do dinosaurs," Lloyd said.

           "Imagine, before the days of electricity, how bright the flash of a firefly was. It must have been
           really mysterious," Lloyd said. "These little insects are truly amazing."