Citizens Collaborate with Scientists

Crowdsourcing to collect data from all app users

The data, with the exact locations and times of the observations will be used for long-term climate change and sustainability studies. Maps showing the observations of fireflies, land use patterns, and environmental quality impairments can be viewed though Clemson’s Firefly Maps.

Picture of online map

Last year researchers organized a June 1 statewide firefly census. People chose their locations and conducted a one-minute census between 8:15 and 10:15 p.m. They reported observations using the Apple app Firefly Flash Counter or the project web page.  We have updated our iPhone App to a newer version and our team has also developed an Android App, and both of these apps are available for free! There were over 1100 observations published in the results which can be viewed at this website:

Along with the app improvements and adding the Android version, our team has been preparing for our May 31st Firefly Census event through social media and participating in the EPA P3 Competition in April 2014 at the National Sustainability Conference in Washington D.C.  Not only have we been able to reach out to others through our Facebook and Twitter pages, but the conference allowed our student team to personally expand the survey to others from states and countries, and recruit more citizen-scientists.  The work done since the project's start earned recognition from the EPA and the team received Honorable Mention at the competition.

Educating the Citizen Scientist

Fireflies tell us about environmental health

Our goal is to teach citizens about how their actions impact the environment. A high number of fireflies indicates a healthy habitat and unpolluted soil and water environments (Jusoh et al., 2010).  Citizen Science, a type of crowdsourcing, is when members of the public volunteer their own time to assist in scientific research.

Urbanization- More people means more pollution.  Fireflies are very sensitive creatures and small pollution can have a big impact.

Pollution- comes from trash, pet waste, pesticides and fertilizers as well as light. Strong, bright artificial light, called light pollution, can outshine flashes that fireflies used to find each other for mating  (Viviani et al.2010).


Education- We are combining mobile technology through smartphone apps and ecology to promote environmental education.

Entertainment- counting fireflies is Green Entertainment Time!


Data Collection and Utilization- As our apps continue to be improved, data to evaluate environmental quality, land exploitation, and plant health status can be collected by a larger number of citizens over a larger area of interest.  This data will be used to determine if fireflies are inf act vanishing and what environmental factors may be related with firefly populations.


Sustainability - Fostering awareness of the relationship between humans, wildlife, and environmental quality leads to more people partaking in sustainable land use and development practices.

Light Pollution Data - We may not realize it but artificial light can be dangerous to the environment, too.  Seeing this effect will encourage others to be aware that turning off your lights conserves both nature and energy!

Data on effects of urbanization - Pesticides do not discriminate; they get both bad bugs and good ones, like our fireflies.  Urban areas with many people more aware of the effects that these chemicals have on our environment through our firefly data.


Principal Investigators
Dr. Alex Chow - - Department of Biosystems Engineering, and Department of Forestry & Natural Resources, Clemson University
Dr. Juang-Horng Chong - - Department of Entomology, Soils, and Plant Sciences, Clemson University