Thursday, August 21, 2008
Steamboat Springs Steamboat's night sky is showcasing lights from an unusual source: fireflies.
The Routt County branch of the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office has confirmed that the glowing insects reside in the Steamboat Springs area. They were found at two sites on private property, north and west of town, Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.
"He actually told me about it last year, and he's known about it for years," Mucklow said of one of the landowners, who did not want to be identified.
Mucklow said he wasn't an expert but thought fireflies were rare in Colorado, particularly on the Western Slope. Glowing fireflies rarely appear west of Kansas, according to research from Ohio State University.
Mucklow wasn't sure what species was found in Steamboat.
The glowing insects are an unusual sight, agreed Bob Hammon of the Tri River Area Extension Office in Grand Junction. He said he has heard they exist on the Western Slope, but only in Fruita. Species of fireflies that do not glow, however, are more common. Those beetles also belong to the Lampyridae family.
"They've probably always been around, would be my guess," Hammon said of the glowing insects. "They're a native species. I'm not sure if it's a new introduction up there or not. The ones in Fruita are a native species."
The insects need consistent moisture to survive, he said. Firefly larvae are semi-aquatic, and fireflies eat other insects. Hammon couldn't say why the glowing firefly populations seemed to be isolated.
"There's a whole lot of unknowns in the insect world," he said.
Information from the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History matched Hammon's take on Colorado's firefly population. Most of Colorado's firefly species don't flash, though some on the Front Range do, the museum stated on its Web site. Those that glow use the light from their abdomens to attract mates and meals.
"The firefly produces light when a compound named luciferin and an enzyme named lucierase combine in the presence of oxygen," the museum's Web site stated.
Hammon said that although fireflies eat other insects, they probably have little impact on the ecology of northwestern Colorado because the population is small.
"I always joke that there's good insects, there's bad insects, and there's a whole lot of indifferent insects," he said. "I would call them indifferent, although they're a delightful insect, for sure."