Thursday, April 21, 2011

Watching for Fires...er...FireFlies

The last few posts we've moved away from our spring biology series and looked at some other aspects of citizen science and projects not tied to the season.  But now we're ready with the next "Spring into Citizen Science" project: FireflyWatch.   I've actually been holding back with this one since these fascinating insects aren't usually active until late April, but most states should start seeing them soon and I want you to be ready for them!

Although the project is run out of the Museum of Science in Boston and focuses on the New England area, they encourage participants from everywhere and have many participants from across the country. So don't feel shy about signing up.  It's a great project requiring minimum time commitments and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.  All you need is a backyard and ten minutes a week; the rest we'll let the fireflies do.

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Check out the FireflyWatch: About the Project web page to read the project basics and learn more about these insects you've been fascinated by since childhood.
  2. Find a convenient place to do your firefly watching.  It can be a local meadow, schoolyard, or even your own backyard.
  3. Travel over to the Virtual Meadow to practice your watching skills and see examples of different types of fireflies you might encounter .  You'll also learn about the traits you'll be observing: Flash Color, Flash Pattern and Insect Location.
  4. Sign Up with the site and register the location you'll be observing from.  The questions are pretty simple and mainly ask what the nearby lighting is like, whether there are pools or creeks nearby, and information like that.
  5. Print out an FireflyWatch: Observations Form to write down everything you see.  The questions on here are pretty simple too; just the observations you learned about in the Virtual Meadow, as well as environmental conditions on that particular night.
  6. Return to the FireflyWatch web site, log in, and submit your observations.  That's it!

 Nothing can be simpler, or more fun, then taking your kids outside and asking them to watch fireflies.  It's the perfect summer evening!  And the best part is you'll be helping scientists understand these animals and teach your kids to become budding scientists.

Finally, after collecting all your observations come back tot he site and check out everyone else's observations.  Just click on FireflyWatch: View and Explore Data to see maps of firefly sightings by month, or to download data sets of all the collected information (including firefly patterns, environmental and site data, etc.) for your own analysis.  If you come up with some interesting findings they'd love to hear from you.  And when you do, make sure to let your OpenScientist friends on this site know about it too in the comments below. Everyone likes to hear about success, and this helps us give you the credit you deserve.

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