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UKM’s Project To Preserve Firefly Habitat In Kampung Dew Taiping

July 1, 2013 | Campus News

KUALA SEPETANG, PERAK, 9 June 2013 – The National University of Malaysia (UKM) and the state of Perak have marked a major milestone in environmental protection by successfully completing the initial phase of a tree-planting project to preserve habitats for fireflies at Kampung Dew near Taping, Perak.

In conjunction with World Environment Day celebrations, the Perak state government officially declared the project a success here today and urged UKM and the local community to continue with it so that the insect population would thrive.

The state hoped the firefly habitats in Kampung Dew would be gazetted soon as a protected area in conjunction with World Environment Day 2013.

The declaration was made in a ceremony officiated by state health, tourism and cultural exco Puan Norlee Ashikin Mohd Radzi, at the Kampung Dew jetty from which boats carrying visitors can observe the breeding grounds of the fireflies several hundred metres away along the Sungai Sepetang river-side.

Also present at the ceremony were UKM Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Prof Dato’ Dr Rahmah Mohamed; Science and Technology Faculty Dean, Prof Dr Shahrim Ahmad; project leader, Asso Prof Dr Norela Sulaiman; state tourism officials and village leaders.

The village community also took part in the project to plant trees near the Sepetang river. It was estimated that 90% of the trees planted in laboratories were succesfully transplanted to the site.

The guests went to see the breeding grounds by boat from the jetty.

The Kampung Dew fireflies are perched on a species of mangrove trees, the ‘pokok berembang’ (sonneratia caseoraris) which is indigenous to the mangrove swamps of the tropics. About a hundred berembang trees had been planted earlier in efforts to help conserve the fireflies by the riverside.

Firefly conservation is important as the firefly is part of the many providers of ecological services in the forest, wetlands and other natural habitats. The firefly larvae are predators and keep a check and balance on natural pests especially the tiny snails.

Firefly (lampyridae) is a family of insects in the beetle order coleoptera. They are winged beetles and are commonly called fireflies for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence in their abdomens to attract mates or prey. Only the males can fly, while the females wait on the ground. Fireflies produce a “cold light”, with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale-red.

About 2,000 species of fireflies are found in temperate and tropical environments. Many are in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food.

Norlee said Kampung Dew is one of the three most important fireflies sanctuaries in the world that have been successfully protected. The other is in Kuala Selangor and the third at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, United States.

If gazetted as a protected area, enforcement officers would be able to take action against those posing a threat to the survival of the firefly population there, she said.

Prof Rahmah suggested that further research be done to determine why the fireflies flash their lights in synchronisation and at other times they appear to light up in rhythm.

She said this might be because synchronous flashes are specific signals or they might be part of a mating ritual.

Dr Norela said tropical fireflies routinely synchronise their flashes when in large groups. The cause of this behaviour is linked to the insects’ diet, social interaction and altitude. Fireflies can live up to 30 days without food. The male fly dies after mating while the female dies after laying its eggs.

She explained that fireflies are very important because they are good bio-indicators to ascertain the health of wetlands due to its sensitivity to a changing environment, such as Global Warming. They are easy to monitor at night by anyone.

Socio-economically the firefly is an important attraction in the night walk activities and a very popular tourist attraction in Malaysia. So fireflies needed to be protected. By conserving fireflies an important habitat is also being conserved, she said.

One other product closely associated with Kg Dew is freshwater lobsters. They thrive in the tepid waters of the river, a major waterway running past the village. The crustaceans have long been an important source of income for the villagers.

The other product which has yet to evolve into a viable money spinner is eco-tourism. She believes that fireflies in the mangrove swamps will spearhead that economic activity.

Kampung Dew, located to the west of Kamunting along the old trunk road, is essentially a fishing village which is also noted for its once thriving charcoal industry.

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