Toxicity of clothianidin to common Eastern North American fireflies

Kirsten Ann Pearsons, Sarah E. Lower, John F. Tooker

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Background. Previous research suggests that fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) are susceptible to commonly used insecticides. In the United States, there has been a rapid and widespread adoption of neonicotinoid insecticides, predominantly used as seed coatings on large-acreage crops like corn, soy, and cotton. Neonicotinoid insecticides are persistent in soil yet mobile in water, so they have potential to contaminate firefly habitats both in and adjacent to application sites. As a result, fireflies may be at high risk of exposure to neonicotinoids, possibly jeopardizing this already at-risk group of charismatic insects. Methods. To assess the sensitivity of fireflies to neonicotinoids, we exposed larvae of Photuris versicolor complex and Photinus pyralis to multiple levels of clothianidin- treated soil and monitored feeding behavior, protective soil chamber formation, intoxication, and mortality. Results. Pt. versicolor and Pn. pyralis larvae exhibited long-term intoxication and mortality at concentrations above 1,000 ng g-1soil (1 ppm). Under sub-lethal clothianidin exposure, firefly larvae fed less and spent less time in protective soil chambers, two behavioral changes that could decrease larval survival in the wild. Discussion. Both firefly species demonstrated sub-lethal responses in the lab to clothianidin exposure at field-realistic concentrations, although Pt. versicolor and Pn. pyralis appeared to tolerate higher clothianidin exposure relative to other soil invertebrates and beetle species. While these two firefly species, which are relatively widespread in North America, appear somewhat tolerant of neonicotinoid exposure in a laboratory setting, further work is needed to extend this conclusion to wild populations, especially in rare or declining taxa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12495
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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