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Montana city could be home to new species of fireflies

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Posted at 2:27 PM, Sep 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 16:27:50-04

BILLINGS - Billings has natural parks you can visit around the city, and you might not have known it, but nestled in some of these parks are fireflies and what could be whole new species of them.

Believe it or not, Billings is home to the Western firefly, a type of beetle that scientists are still learning much about.

“They got incredibly dense. And it was just like little sparks everywhere and they probably covered a seven-acre area. It was very cool,” said entomologist, Marian Lyman Kirst on Thursday.

Kirst works for Northern Rocky Mountain Research and Educational Services.

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“We were able to identify the genus of this particular firefly. We think it’s a Photuris,” Kirst said.

Thanks to some tips of sightings from Billings residents, she and Billings Parks and Rec City Forester, Steve McConnell have been researching these fireflies in the city since last year.

“What we’re trying to do is generate enough interest from scientists who specialize in these animals to maybe come here or to send them some live specimens so they can determine species,” said Kirst.

She said there’s a chance that these Western fireflies can be a completely new species. These particular ones are found in marshy wetland habitats, often wet grassy strips near irrigation ditches.

“Some of our city parks that have these habitats are really important because they could be playing host to these amazing populations of fireflies,” Kirst said.

It’s a little late in the season to catch them in action. These fireflies are active from late May to early July, while the larvae remain in the topsoil of those wetter habitats.

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Folks are encouraged to check out these beetles in smaller groups from around 9:30 to 11:30 at night. You don’t have to go very far to see them in season.

“In Billings, we have 30 different natural area parks so there are places you can go. You don’t have to leave the city boundaries to relax and experience nature,” said McConnell.

Some of these natural parks are Phipps, Riverfront, and Meadowlark Park, and you won’t just find fireflies.

“There’s frogs, I saw a snake the other day. At Riverfront Park, one time I saw a moose. You can see foxes at several of our parks,” McConnell said.

If you do happen to catch fireflies in season, Kirst encourages folks to document their findings.

“Get online and find some projects that are documenting Western Fireflies and submit a sighting,” said Kirst.