“Fireflies give humans the pleasure of a warm and tranquil feeling. In the memories from my childhood, when I was on my mother’s knee and stared at the midsummer night stars, the light of the firefly was there.” — Kim Ha Gon, firefly expert at the Muju Firefly Institute.
As civilizations modernize, accompanied by an increase in electric light, the natural glow of the firefly will continue to fade. For one thing, the firefly needs dark conditions to reproduce. Deforestation and pollution have also resulted in a loss of habitat. However, according to firefly expert Kim Ha Gon, if urbanization is limited to certain areas, the environment of the countryside could renew itself and it is possible that the number of fireflies could increase.
In July of last year, the Warm-temperate Forest Research Center, a department of the Korea Forest Research Institute (KFRI) located in Seogwipo City, announced that a research team led by Prof. Kwan Jino discovered Korea’s largest population of the unmunsan firefly (Luciola unmunsana Doi) at the Jeju Research Forest, located in a mountainous area of Seogwipo City. Then on June 26, in a press release sent out by the center, Kwon said that his team had found other places in Seogwipo which are inhabited by fireflies.
“For a long time I have known of the possibility of unmunsan fireflies living in Seogwipo but I had to search carefully. After the announcement last year, I expected more of them to be living in other places on Jeju,” Kwon said in a interview with The Jeju Weekly.
Because the firefly can be seen flying in the wild between mid-June to mid-July, Kwan’s team had to wait an entire year to continue their study on the population of fireflies and their natural habitat. During the wait, in their laboratory the team examined the insects ecology with larval samples they had caught. It was at night on June 13 during a routine check of animals at the research forest that they had found the first two fireflies of 2012. This indicated that it was time for them to go out to find other fireflies flying about in addition to those at the research forest.
▲ The unmunsan firefly is seeing a resurgence with roughly 200,000 of them spotted this June in Seogwipo City. Photo courtesy Warm-temperate Forest Research Center
Research was conducted from June 18 to 20 after 8 p.m. — when the fireflies start to appear. They found between 100,000 to 200,000 fireflies a day near the Beopjeong Temple in Hawon-dong, and hundreds of them at the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall. Other habitats are Donnaeko Valley, Yeongnam-dong, and Mt. Gun, all in Seogwipo City.
Kwan said among the four species of firefly living in Korea, the one he found on Jeju this time is the unmunsan firefly. Unlike the other three (Luciola lateralis Motshulsky, Hotaria papariensis Doi, and Lychnuris rufa) which live underwater as larval, the unmunsan firefly’s larva stage occurs on the ground.
“They are smallest (8 to 9 millimeters) and the weakest species and they are very sensitive to the environment,” he said, adding, “If agricultural chemicals are sprayed over their habitats, they die.” That’s why all the discovered habitats are located in mountainous areas far from tangerine farms and golf courses.
He mentioned that “Because the unmunsan firefly is rarely found, there has been little research conducted on their life. One thing for sure is the fact unmunsa fireflies exist shows that the place is clean.” Now Kwon hopes that his discovery will offer people a chance to enjoy the light of the fireflies, while he believes that the government should take a more active role to support this fragile insect.
“First, more research on the habitat of the firefly has to be conducted. [The government] should also differentiate which area has to be protected and which should be [open to public and] used for eco-tourism. If it is just protected, who could enjoy it?”
He added, “Now our research center’s role is to continue the scientific study on the ecology of the firefly and the [proper] environmental conditions needed. If a way to grow fireflies in a farm is developed, someday a farmer might take care of them and let them go out after they grow up,” he said, adding that this might make it possible to see fireflies flying through the Jeju sky.
Kwon said he is happy his research showed that “the environment [has been] revitalized.” He added, “During my research, I deliberately brought a child with me to see his response. He was very happy [to see the firefly’s light] and he still tells me to take him there again. When I saw his face ... [I was happy, too.]” He suggested for Seogwipo City to assign an area for students to watch fireflies and learn more about them.
For those interested in viewing fireflies, Kwon had a suggestion: Don’t use a flashlight, and don’t venture into the forest, just stay on the trail so as to not harm the larvae which lie on top of the ground.
An additional suggestion: When traveling in the dark, do so in small groups and be safe. Also, since the firefly season has passed, you’ll need to wait until next year to bask in the glow of this fragile, yet brilliant, species.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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