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  • Writer's pictureLuis A Mazariegos

January 2024 - Glowing Treasures: Firefly Extravaganza @ MPNR

Updated: Mar 31

As the festive glow of Christmas lights fades into memory at "La Mesenia" village, a quieter yet equally enchanting spectacle emerges to grace the night - the gentle illumination of fireflies. These bioluminescent insects, scientifically known as Lampyridae transform ordinary landscapes into extraordinary realms. Their synchronized flashes or glows, reminiscent of celestial constellations, evoke a sense of wonder and connection to nature’s mysteries.

Predatory Firefly, Photuris sp.

Fireflies are famous for using light signals – bioluminescence – as a form of communication, employing intricate patterns of light to attract mates. Each species has its unique signal, contributing to the symphony of nature’s nighttime orchestra. The ethereal glow of fireflies not only illuminates the darkness but also serves as a testament to the delicate balance of ecosystems. Additionally, airborne chemicals – pheromones – may be deployed in mate finding as well, especially by diurnal species, alone or in combination with light signals. Diurnal fireflies species are usually overlooked, but their wonderful color patterns – often involved in mimicry rings – can be equally as amusing.

Photoctus sp, nov. to be described. This is the first Andean record of the genus.

However, the magic of fireflies is facing an alarming decline. Habitat loss, light pollution, and pesticide use threaten their populations. Urbanization encroaches upon their natural habitats, disrupting the ecosystems they rely on for survival. Artificial lights from cities and towns interfere with their ability to signal and find mates, disrupting their reproduction. The decline of firefly populations sends a clear message about the broader ecological impact of human activities.

The Mesenia-Paramillo Nature Reserve (MPNR) stands as a testament to the extraordinary biodiversity that thrives in its lush landscapes. Within the confines of the reserve, Luiz Felipe Lima Da Silveira, Brazilian researcher, has unveiled a remarkable diversity of fireflies. A total of 52 species in nineteen genera —three more genera than in all United States— have been identified, some of which had eluded scientific observation for some 100 years, and at least twelve that are new to science. As important as these new occurrence data are field observations of activity patterns (diurnal, crepuscular, nocturnal) and behaviors, such as predation, aggressive mimicry, and mating. It takes a lot of boots on the ground effort, but also diligent supervised observation and documentation in the lab. Biologist and science teacher Camila Lopes Di Gregorio joined the expedition and has provided pivotal support in this process. 

Luiz Felipe Lima Da Silveira and Camila Lopes Di Gregorio studying fireflies at the invertebrate lab at MPNR.

The rediscovery of firefly species not seen for a century is a testament to MPNR’s pristine and relatively undisturbed environment. The MPNR provides a refuge for species that face threats elsewhere, a sanctuary where the delicate balance of ecosystems remains intact. This high level of biodiversity among fireflies indicates the health and resilience of the reserve’s ecosystem, as these organisms are often sensitive to changes in their surroundings.

Magnoculus major, a firefly not seen for almost a century with previously unknown locality, was found at MPNR.

The unique topography and varied ecosystems within the reserve contribute to the diversity of firefly species. The privileged location, material support, as well as the knowledgeable and friendly staff provided by the station promotes safe access to these unique habitats and species of critical importance. Different species may inhabit distinct microhabitats, and the reserve’s elevational gradients and ecological niches offer a range of environments suitable for various firefly species. This variety showcases the interconnectedness of flora and fauna within the reserve, emphasizing the importance of maintaining its ecological integrity.

Giant firefly larvae of the tribe Lampyrini, genus unknown.

The MPNR serves not only as a haven for fireflies but also as a living laboratory for understanding the intricacies of biodiversity and the delicate relationships between species. The rediscovery of species unseen for a century speaks to the reserve’s importance as a stronghold for wildlife conservation and the importance of preserving and studying remote and ecologically significant areas.

We embrace the excitement of new discoveries this 2024. Wishing our readers a joyous and prosperous New Year!

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