(CN) – Striking for their double-green flash, the lightning bugs that call the Delaware Coast home are a little different from those seen in most other parts of the country.
Habitat is another difference, and one researchers say could cause the beetle known as the Bethany Beach Firefly to blink out forever.
Unlike any of the other more than 170 species of U.S. firefly, Photuris bethaniensis, as the bug is also known, lives particularly around the depressions in between sand dunes called freshwater swales.
But the firefly’s numbers have shrank drastically thanks to rising sea levels, expensive beach homes and other coastal development leaving their imprint along Delaware’s southern coast.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation brought a petition to have the bug listed as an endangered species this past May, alleging that a development project called Tower Shores just north of Bethany Beach will seal the beetle’s fate.
“One thing that we hope that could potentially be on the table is the developer potentially thinking about the species, if it is there, and how we can conserve the species in that area by limiting light pollution and herbicides and insecticides,” Tara Cornelisse, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, explained in a phone interview.
“This destruction of one of its few habitats makes it even more important to protect these other areas where it’s also found and still intact,” she added.
The Associated Press meanwhile quoted Francis X. Gorman, a lawyer for the developer Breakcap, they have “no reason to believe that any fireflies live in or along the interdunal swale within Breakwater Beach, let alone that Breakwater Beach is critical habitat for any species.”
“It is curious that they are now – only after Breakcap LLC has obtained all required legal approvals to construct Breakwater Beach – seeking to have the Bethany Beach firefly listed as a federally endangered species, notwithstanding the admitted decades-long understanding of the firefly’s alleged limited range,” Gorman added.
Cornelisse called the firefly an indicator species for wetland health and said the bug’s protection is particularly important because of its unique preference for freshwater habitats. It’s also one of the first species of firefly that scientists have been able to determine is declining.
“Hopefully it will be kind of like a beacon of hope for other insects as well,” she said. “Fireflies in particular are one of the insects that no one can argue aren’t awesome. Not everyone loves all insects but fireflies are beautiful: they really represent an insect that people can rally behind.”