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Holiday light show spotlights invertebrate conservation

Tickets are on sale for the Living Lights show

Lights have been a part of holiday traditions for ages, but humans are not the only ones to deck the halls in Colorado this season. Invertebrates at the Butterfly Pavilion, 6252 W. 104th Ave., are hosting a show of their own.

 “One of the things we are trying to do is connect the community to conservation,” said Russ Pecoraro, vice president of marketing, communications and guest experience. “To really shine a light on what invertebrates mean to our planet, what they mean to every ecosystem on the planet.”

Invertebrates are animals without backbones, and the spineless star of this year’s Living Lights show is the firefly. According to Sara Stevens, director of animal collections at the Butterfly Pavilion, fireflies are native to Colorado, although rarely seen here. 

“Colorado has several species of firefly,” Stevens said. “Most of them don’t light up at all, which is another reason people don’t realize they are here.” 

Fireflies spend most of their lives as larvae, “hanging out in the dirt,” Stevens said. “You get about two weeks of looking really cool.”  

In its hope to preserve Colorado’s firefly population, which has dwindled due to the development of the wetlands these invertebrates inhabit, the Butterfly Pavilion has sought out denser populations of fireflies. From there, they have found some larvae to bring back for research.

When the Butterfly Pavilion moves to its new facility, estimated in 2024, Stevens hopes the research team will know enough about the invertebrate to be able to set up a habitat on the grounds. 

“It hasn’t really been done before, so we are starting from scratch,” Stevens said. 

The research group began looking at how to relocate fireflies to the new habitat in 2017. Strides have been made to breed adult fireflies, hatch the young and bring them up, but much more needs to be studied to bring them to adulthood in the Butterfly Pavilion’s care, Stevens said. 

Research on fireflies extends to helping a diverse population of animals which share the same habitat as the firefly. 

“If the invertebrates can survive there, pretty much everything else can,” Stevens said.

Rich Reading, director for research and conservation, added that invertebrates are important because they indicate the health of the planet, which extends up the food chain. 

“A lot of the species we look at have either that role — where they are indicators that there is something wrong in the ecosystem or they are pollinators, pollinating 30 percent of our food. If we lose them we are big trouble,” he said.  

Glowing scorpions and coral will be In supporting roles during the two-week exhibit slated for Dec. 17-Jan. 2, along with an enchanted firefly forest, aerial artists and the Firefly Princess.  

“We call it Living Lights because these animals actually light up in a really cool way,” Pecoraro said. “It is a really fun way to get kids to connect with invertebrates.” 

Tickets are on sale for the Living Lights show which will take place after dark — the first show starts at 5:40 p.m.