Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier State Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.
Those who worry about Indiana’s image in more enlightened sections of the country can relax a little now that one black mark on the state’s reputation has been erased: It is no longer one of only four states that do not have an official insect.
Hoosier entomologists will no longer have to hang their heads in shame when they go to national conferences. And the even better news is that new state laws don’t take effect until July, so we have several months to get used to the new rules and regulations that will attend designation of Say’s Firefly – sometimes disrespectfully called a “lightning bug” – as the official state insect.
The guidelines from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ new Insect Control and Enforcement Division (ICE) run 170 pages. That’s quite short as state dictates go, but it can be a lot to absorb. Informed Hoosiers should learn the highlights, especially if they want to be in a position to explain the situation to their children, who, after all, will be the most affected.
They will still be able to watch and catch fireflies as always but there will be a few important limitations: Only official firefly receptacles, made of glass and no larger than quart size, may be used. These jars can be purchased at any supermarket or convenience store, except on Sundays.
Fireflies may be kept in the jars for only three days. Since the adult insects live for only about two months, anything longer would be considered cruelty to a lower life form.
No more than five fireflies may be kept in one jar by anyone who does not have a breeder’s license, which may be obtained from the state for a $1,000 fee after the required 12-week course is completed.
To cut down on complaints from neighbors who require low light levels to sleep, fireflies may be displayed in jars only from 8 to 11 p.m., except for the five-day periods before and after the Fourth of July, when local jurisdictions may relax the rules if they choose.
If more than 30 fireflies are confined at one time (e.g. five fireflies in six jars or three fireflies in 10 jars), it will be considered an organized event and a permit must be obtained.
State officials stress that these rules are not meant to be punitive. Rather they are instructive, aimed at teaching our young people that fireflies are creatures of the wild, not suitable as pets. Fines will be minimal, and violations will be considered as infractions rather than misdemeanors that would go on a child’s permanent record.
One possible snag that officials are reluctant to talk about is the fact that only the Say’s Firefly is the official state insect, so none of the other 2,000 or so varieties will be appropriate for our children’s catch-and-release outings.
This could be problematic in northern counties, since the Say’s Firefly is thought to be common only in southern and central counties. ICE officials are apparently working on an exchange program in which Say’s Fireflies and non-Say’s fireflies will be trapped in various counties and transported to the appropriate venues. Details are still being hammered out, including what to do about smugglers who will surely try to create a black market in undocumented fireflies.
Which of course brings up the problem of fireflies indigenous to other parts of the country and, indeed, the rest of the world. Obviously, no wall would be high enough to keep them out, and officials won’t comment on speculation that they are consulting with the experts now trying to figure out how to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.
Some of us worry about the massive new bureaucracy that could be needed to operate the new firefly program. But the state insists that it can handle things with no more than 75 ICE agents, some of them doubling up on small counties. They won’t harass our citizens with random raids, but will act only on citizen complaints.
Furthermore, at least 30 percent of their salaries will be paid through fines and fees, and there is no need for them to be armed “at this time.”
Speaking of carp, the state doesn’t have an official fish, not to mention a state mammal or dog breed. Now that we know it can be done, let’s get to work on that.