Kristen Huelsmann Hansen and her family are still getting used to the cottage they bought last September on the Upper Rideau. So it was something of a surprise when, in late July, “every evening at dusk the area around their cottage would light up with fireflies. “I have never seen as many so close together,” says Huelsmann Hansen.
Her 12-year-old son, an affirmed nature lover, captured one in a jar so that he could examine it more closely before releasing it.
It’s a scene that played out all over cottage country, with many of us breathless at how many fireflies we’re seeing this year. Why so many? Is there something in the air? (Pun intended.)
Turns out it is a particularly good year for fireflies (which, incidentally, are not flies at all but beetles. A heartfelt thank-you to the person who dismissed firebeetle for having neither the alliteration nor romance of “firefly”. And further appreciation to whomever came up with the moniker “lightning bug”, which sounds like an entomological superhero).
MassAudubon (the Audubon society in Massachusetts) operates a citizen science project called Firefly Watch, which enlists people all over North America to keep track of how many fireflies they’re seeing.
There are, according to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, 29 species of firefly native to Canada, some of which live on land, others in water, and still others who divide their time between the two (as true cottagers do).
While 2019 data is still being collected and compiled, there’s plenty of indicators of a particularly spectacular 2019 summer of fireflies. While experts theorize that populations have been negatively affected because of human encroachment into marshlands, which is where fireflies generally live, and light pollution, which makes it harder for the fireflies to communicate threats and also to mate. This year, a particularly damp spring boosted the numbers of fireflies’ favourite meals, slugs, and worms. More food, the thinking goes, equals more and healthier fireflies. Whatever the reason, these magical creatures cast a much-loved glow to our summer nights. As Kristen Huelsmann Hansen puts it, “What a gift to be able to light up our sky like that.”