The thousands of tourists who visit the firefly reserve in Tlaxcala are seen as the principal threat to the insects’ survival.
In the western part of the state visitors have had access since 2011 to more than 200 hectares of forest, where 15 viewing centers offer camping and cabins.
It is currently the height of the firefly viewing season, which runs from June through August when the insects are mating. More than 80,000 tourists visit firefly sanctuaries in Tlaxcala, México state and Puebla during the season.
But in places such as Santa Clara, Tlaxcala, as many as 900 visitors in a day have been reported at the Villas del Bosque, the only certified sanctuary in Mexico and one of two in the world. The other is in New Zealand.
The firefly’s only predator is humankind, which poses a threat through encroachment into the flies’ habitat. But forest fires and climate change also pose dangers, says Julián Pérez Ríos of Conafor, the National Forest Commission.
However, the creation of the sanctuary has given the fireflies protection through monitoring for forest fires and maintaining the forest in its natural state after several decades in which there was no regulation, to the detriment of the fireflies.
Installing viewing areas, forest trails and keeping a constant eye on the insects to detect disease or illness have given employment to local citizens, who would otherwise have had to leave to find work, said Víctor Alejandro González Reza, another Conafor official.
Visitors, meanwhile, need to respect the rules.
Santa Clara guide Luis Ramón Galindo said the simple act of using a cell phone can be damaging. Some people think the restriction on the use of phones is exaggerated, he said, but the male flies can confuse the light from a phone with that emitted by a female.
Galindo also said that visitor numbers have increased to the point where next year the sanctuary plans to introduce a reservation system for visitors.