Bring the fireflies back to Taipei was purely accidental.
Standing at the foot of Xianjiyan (仙跡岩) in Wenshan District, Friends of Daan Forest Park Foundation Vice-Director, Kaven Chen (陳鴻楷), smiles and says, “This is where everything started. Originally, the landowner just hoped our team would solve the mosquito and bug problem here.” It turned out that Chen spotted fireflies at this location, which set him on a journey of saving and restoring the glowing little insects.
Creating a Habitat To Encourage the Fireflies’ Return
In 2012, Chen was entrusted with this project and started doing ecological research. During basic survey work, he spotted twinkling fireflies that had long been missing. He recorded about three different species; though very few of each, it made him excited nonetheless. If fireflies were restored at the foot of Xianjiyan, it would mean that a symbol of brightness had been brought back to Taipei. And that would be a great thing!
But he also realized that the land owner probably had plans to build on such a big lot. “But I still wanted to try and convince him,” Chen says, “and, as it turned out, he totally supported our firefly protection ambitions.” Chen went ahead and assembled a professional team to start the restoration. One of the team members, the entomologist, Dr. Wu Jiaxiong (吳加雄), is one of the few experts studying the firefly in northern Taiwan. Wu explained that firefly restoration doesn’t simply mean breeding and release. “Releasing them like that would kill them. Fireflies need clean water, low light pollution, and a proper place for mating and laying eggs. The first step of restoring fireflies must be restoring their habitat.” The team began the process of reactivating the Xianjiyan habitat, but in that neighborhood there was a school under construction and even excess bright light from a neighboring night school. Luckily, with a little friendly persuasion, both schools agreed to cooperate, and even put in appropriation requests for curtains!
In addition to this problem, the team had to face the challenge of Mother Nature. Two destructive typhoons were just the beginning; a local crustacean named Geothelphusa miyazakii proved tricky, too. Remembering the situation as funny and annoying at the same time, Wu recalls, “This kind of crab destroys the waterproof strata we had worked so hard to build, but we didn’t want to harm the creatures. So, we spent some time capturing the crabs with shrimp pots and then relocating them.” In the fall of 2013, the revived habitat was finally finished, and they proceeded with the first release. Wu says that when firefly restoration happened in Japan, they initially released just the adult ones, which resulted in repeated failure; it took 16 years to find a solution. “In Taipei, we decided to release adults and any young ones capable of defending themselves together. In the spring of 2014, preliminary results showed that six kinds of fireflies had been successfully returned.”
Industry and Academy Work Hand In Hand – Local People Contribute With Love
Once the restoration at the foot of Xianjiyan had succeeded, Taipei City Government moved on to other locations which had supported fireflies in the past. The aim was to create a“city of fireflies,”and Rongxing Garden Park, Muzha Park (木柵公園) and Daan Park were all picked as venues for restoration. The hope was that fireflies that had been forced into suburban areas for decades would come back to Taipei City.
The Friends of Daan Forest Park Foundation has worked with the Parks and Street Lights Office Public Works Department, Taipei City Government (台北市政府工務局公園路燈工程管理處), and has duplicated the successful Xianjiyan experience in these three areas. But each park has its own conditions, which made the restoration process extremely hard. Using Muzha Park as an example, Wu says it took a whole year just to clear out the exotic species of animals and plants, and a lot of silt. “You can’t get big machinery in there; so over one thousand volunteers from Wenshan Community College helped dig and haul out bags of silt and exotic plants using simple elbow grease.” It was the same situation at Rongxing Garden Park. Yang Pingshi had successfully restored fireflies there before, now he’s back to supervise this project. Local people, volunteers and school kids were recruited and, working together, three thousand individuals did the job in just over six months.
Situated right downtown, Daan Park had to overcome the troubling issue of light pollution. With many years of experience in LED development, Everlight (億光電子工業股份有限公司), and in particular its farm-born CEO, Robert Yei (葉寅夫) and his wife, Susie Chien (簡文秀) tackled the challenge after learning about urban light pollution. Researching various scientific studies, they found that in America in the 1980’s, ERG tests were conducted on fireflies. The results showed that fireflies are photosensitive to ultraviolet and green light especially. But, according to Dr. Wu, a wavelength of 590nm on the red spectrum will not disturb fireflies as much, and can be used for nighttime lighting. New special lights, instead of being mass produced, were hand developed, and provided totally free for the restoration project. “For LED manufacturers, it’s easy enough to produce a wavelength of any nanometer,” Chien says. “This study was done 30 years ago, but no one had ever put it into practice. Now it’s been successfully applied in Taiwan, which shows we have a great sense of ecological conservation, and this is something we should be proud of.”
With downtown firefly restoration successfully accomplished, Taiwan was chosen over Australia and Mainland China to host the International Firefly Festival this year. To help people see the importance of restoration and how they can support and cherish fireflies, volunteers have been posted near the eco-pools of these three parks. They are able and willing to answer visitors’ questions at all times. In this way, ecological knowledge can become part of the ongoing education of Taiwan, and fireflies will stay here and flourish forever!
This is the most common aquatic species in Taiwan. Their eggs are yellow but turn black before hatching. There are yellow lines along the insect’s edge between two elytra and its light flash is yellow. Thus, it’s been named “Huang Yuan Yin” in Chinese, which means the firefly with a yellow edge. (Photo: Wu Jiaxiong)
This species outnumbers all others in Taiwan. They have an orange breast and black wings, and flash a yellow-green light. They live at low and medium mountain levels. (Photo: Wu Jiaxiong)
These appear between April and August each year. The photogenic organs on the breast and elytra are both orange yellow. The wingtips and whole body are black. (Photo: Wu Jiaxiong)
Their most notable feature is their red pronotum. They love damp and dark places in the mountains. Their flash is orange red in color and fires with rapid frequency and for a long time. (Photo: Fang Huade)
They have a pink pronotum and are similar to Luciola kagiana except for their smaller size. Their flash is orange red as well. (Phot: Wu Jiaxiong)
These fireflies have an orange yellow body with a black head, and their forewing tips have black spots. They love to fly up to higher levels in the woods at night; they are active in the daytime as well, visiting flowers and mating. (Photo: Wu Jiaxiong)
Spring (April to May) and Fall (September to October)
Location: Hushan Creek Trail (虎山溪步道)
Species: Luciola cerata, Luciola kagiana, Luciola satoi, Luciola anceyi
Locations: Rongxing Garden Park, Muzha Park, Daan Park
Species: Aquatica ficta
1 Wear long-sleeved clothing and pants to avoid insect bites.
2 While watching fireflies, talk quietly and watch your step.
3 Do not use red cellophane to cover a white LED flashlight! The LED will still be harmful to fireflies. Using red cellophane to cover an incandescent bulb flashlight is fine, as this doesn’t harm fireflies. Please note that the three firefly restoration parks have all installed lighting that provides visibility but will not harm fireflies; so you don’t need to worry.
4 Please do not release animals or plants into the eco-pools. This may result in destroying the firefly’s habitat.
5 Please do not reach out to catch fireflies; just enjoy their twinkling beauty.
For more information, please check with Taipei City Public Transportation Office’s Real-Time Bus Information System.
Vice-Director Kaven Chen (right) and Dr. Wu Jiaxiong (left) have devoted themselves to bringing fireflies back to Taipei. (Photo: Huang Chienpin)
Professor Yang Pingshi (right) introduces Rongxing Garden Park’s restoration eco-pool to park volunteers. (Photo: Huang Chienpin)
How to Get to the Six Firefly Viewpoints?
1 A) Take bus 108, 109, 110, 230, 260, or R5 to Yangmingshan (陽明山), and transfer to bus 9 to Bamboo Lake (竹子湖). B) Take MRT Danshui Line (捷運淡水線) to Beitou station (北投站), and transfer to bus S9 to Bamboo Lake. C) Take MRT Danshui Line to Shipai Station (石牌站), and transfer to bus S8 to Bamboo Lake. D) Take bus 131, which travels a circular route between Yangmingshan Second Parking Lot and Bamboo Lake. E) Take Royal Bus (Taipei to Jinshan Line) to Bamboo Lake Police Station.
2 Take bus S8, S9, 108, 1717 and get off at Bamboo Lake Police Station (竹子湖派出所站), walk for about 300 meters to the entrance of Shuicheliao Trail (水車寮步道), right next to the parking lot of Hutian Elementary School (湖田國小).
3 Take bus 255 and get off at Dalunwei Mountain Stop (大崙尾山站), it connects to the entrance of Cuishan Trail (翠山步道).
4 Take MRT Wenhu Line (文湖線) to Neihu station (內湖站), Dahu Park Station (大湖公園站), or take bus 287, 284, 278, 617, 630, 620 and get off at Dahu Park Stop. Follow Ln. 131, Dahu Street, Dahu Village (大湖山莊), and after passing Dahu Elementary School, you’ll arrive at the riverside park.
5 Starting from MRT Houshanpi Station (後山埤站), follow Zhongpo South Road (中坡南路) towards Fude Street (福德街), walk for about 20 minutes, and you’ll arrive at the Tsuhuei Temple (慈惠堂) hiking gate on Ln. 251, Fude Street. Take bus 46, 257, 263, Xinyi Main Line and get off at Fengtian Temple Stop (奉天宮站), and follow Ln. 221, Fude Street to Chin Kwang Temple (真光禪寺登山口) hiking gate. Or take bus 257, 263, B10, Xinyi Main Line and get off at Fude Primary School stop (福德國小站), and follow Ln. 251, Fude Street. You’ll soon arrive at the Tsuhuei Temple hiking gate.
6 Take MRT Bannan Line (板南線) to Kunyang Station (昆陽站), transfer to bus S5, and get off at the Tea Processing Demonstration Center stop (茶葉製造示範場站), then walk to Guei Hua Ting (桂花亭; Sweet Osmanthus Pavilion).