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A Tiny Spark of a Firefly Gone Viral

Five-and-half-year-old Ellie and her family from Smithfield, Utah are among a dozen people standing at the edge of a marsh in Nibley, Utah - waiting. They are here to see if the rumors are true. Are there really fireflies in Utah?

“I had never seen fireflies in my life before until I came here to Nibley and saw them in our park," said David Zook, city manager for Nibley City. "I’ve heard that they are very rare anywhere outside the East Coast. Since we found out about these, I have heard of other places in Utah where they have been seen."

Since 2013 entomologists from Brigham Young University have collected samples from a handful of locations across the state. The Natural History Museum of Utah has an ongoing citizen science projectwhere residents can log their own firefly sightings to aid the scientists in their efforts to track firefly populations out West. 

“We got a grant last year to buy theses 20 acres and we looked around at a lot of different pieces of property. One of the reasons why we really liked this one was because of the natural aspects, and one of those that we knew was that fireflies lived on it. The city council wanted it to buy it to preserve this open space, to provide an opportunity for the public to learn about nature, and to see what our city looked like before all of these houses were built here."

The city partnered with the Stokes Nature Center in Logan to educate residents about the special critters lighting up their backyards. Overnight, the event went viral.  

"Originally we thought we would have 15 to 20 people, which is usually the attendance for one of our educational workshops and nature hikes, and guided hikes, and things," said Stokes Director of Education Sasha Broadstone. "But somehow people got a hold of it and it spread like wildfire."

As of Wednesday, more than 9,000 people from across the Cache Valley--and beyond--have indicated on the event’s Facebook page that they are interested in attending the walk at Heritage Park in Nibley. That’s about 1.5 times the population of Nibley.

"It must just be the rarity of fireflies in Utah, and that fact that here in Cache Valley and maybe in this part of Utah, there's a lot of transplants, maybe people who grew up with fireflies; they've raised families here, and they've watched their children grow up without that childhood memory of chasing fireflies in the dark," Broadstone said. 

Stokes Nature Center educators and the Utah State University entomology club will be leading a free walk on Saturday, June 18 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Heritage Park in Nibley. They are reminding visitors to come, enjoy the fireflies, but leave them in the field where they belong.

"We want to protect the fireflies," Zook said. "It's very rare to find them in the Western United States and we want to preserve that. It's a special thing for our residents and people throughout the region to come see them and we want to make sure that's something our kids can come see, our grandkids can come see."