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Extension: Summer insect counts measure change and sustainability
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Atlanta Firefly Project logo. Photo courtesy of the UGA Extension Forsyth.

By Heather Kolich

For the Dawson County News

Do you enjoy watching colorful butterflies flitting around the garden? Do you remember the fascination of watching for fireflies to light up tiny points of summer nights? Have you noticed a change in the numbers or types of insects around your home?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, UGA researchers have opportunities for you to help collect data this summer for two conservation projects: the Atlanta Firefly Project and the 3rd Annual Great Georgia Pollinator Census.


Count on Fireflies

Here’s a fun fact: With over 50 different species, Georgia is home to more kinds of fireflies than any other state. The common eastern firefly, Photinus pyralis, is the one we see most. The pale, yellow border around the wings and other physical characteristics help identify the common eastern firefly from other species, but so do flight and flash patterns. Males flash in flight, creating a J-shaped light trail. Females stay in low plants on the ground and answer with a short flash. Firefly eggs hatch about three weeks after the mating rituals. The glowing larvae benefit gardens by eating slugs and grubs. As adults, they eat flower nectar and may assist in pollination. 

Now through July is when Kelly Riddenhour, an ecology graduate researcher at the UGA Odum School of Ecology, is asking people living in metro Atlanta to spend a few minutes over four evenings counting fireflies at their homes. Everyone can participate, whether your landscape is an acre of forest or an apartment patio. Our collective observations, entered into the data collection app, will be paired with aerial images of vegetation and light pollution to help researchers understand the type of habitat that fireflies live in. Other information about our home landscapes may help the researchers develop correlations between firefly populations and land management practices.

To participate in the Atlanta Firefly Project, go to https://www.atlantafireflyproject.org/. Researchers will share the findings in the spring of 2022.


Protecting Pollinators One Count at a Time

Mark you calendars for the 3rd Annual Great Georgia Pollinator Census, happening on August 20 and 21 this year. The assignment isn’t hard; simply select a flower at a park, school garden, or home landscape and watch it for 15 minutes while counting the types of insects that visit it. Then enter your data at the Great Georgia Pollinator Census website.

Over the past two years, community participants counted over 100,000 pollinators – bumble bees, carpenter bees, small bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and other insects. Through this project, we’re all learning about insect conservation, pollinator habitats, and Georgia’s pollinator populations. To get involved, download data collection sheets and identification instructions or sign-up for the newsletter at https://ggapc.org/. Check out the “Educators” page for STEAM and school activity resources.


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How to count pollinators. Photo courtesy of the UGA Extension Forsyth.

Managing Pests and Garden Produce: July Lunch & Learn Webinars

Not all insects are beneficial. About 3 percent of insects are pests, but it can seem like a lot more if they’ve infested your garden or landscape. Managing pests to keep them below damaging thresholds is a process of many steps. Join Forsyth County Extension in July for these home garden webinars. Each 1-hour webinar begins at noon.

Integrated Pest Management – July 15. Learn the principles of integrated pest management from the ground up.

Summer Garden Harvest Tips and Techniques – July 22. Learn when and how to harvest home-garden produce for best quality and productivity.

Saving Seeds for Another Growing Season – July 29. Learn how to save seeds from your favorite garden plants so you can grow them again next year.

Preregistration for the webinars is required. Go to https://tinyurl.com/9rb7kva7 to register for any or all July Extension Lunch & Learn webinars. And please visit the UGA Extension Forsyth County website for more Extension events and classes.

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