I started work on fireflies quite by accident, but such a fortuitous accident.
In 1961, having just graduated from a Bachelor of Science (in Entomology and Botany), and about to undertake my Honours degree at the University of Queensland's Department of Entomology, I was presented with a list of 20 possible projects to choose from. I eliminated 1-19 as I did not think I had the where-with-all to tackle them and thought, well it will have to be no 20! Number 20 was the biology of fireflies, and at that moment I had never even seen one in the wild!
This was not the most auspicious start, but start I did, and found of course like so many others in biological science that no matter what we want to work on, we have to start with the names. Luckily, I was in a taxonomic department, so there was help as I started out looking at the taxonomy of the Australian fauna, thinking I would then switch over once I had them all named.
I still work predominantly on Luciolinae firefly taxonomy to this day.
From 1969 to 1970 the scientific vessel 'Alpha Helix' sailed to New Guinea for investigation into bioluminescence including fireflies. Although I was invited and couldn't go, I began an interaction with both John Bonner Buck and Jim Lloyd that continued until Jim's passing in 2020. I was asked to provide all the taxonomic decisions relating to the fireflies they collected (exclusively Luciolinae). A word of warning for budding taxonomists, taxonomy does not progress smoothly all the time! It took years before we could complete the exercise, as we needed a good reliable taxonomic framework for the Luciolinae, and that developed with papers in 2009 and 2013. The final reports and taxonomic issues arising from that 1970 visit were resolved in 2013!
My interactions with Jim Lloyd for the next 20 years following the New Guinea visit, were all via old fashioned correspondence, as we did not meet in person until 1989, when I did the first of two periods of study leave with him at the University of Florida in Gainesville. I had the specimens, and he had the information. We resolved the situation slowly, going back and forth, and our vast correspondence from that time accounting for all our decisions was filed under an appropriate name, the 'Rosetta Stone'.
I have had a punctuated career. I married Rob in 1966, had offspring number 1 in 1968 at which point I retired, as there were no opportunities for child minding and I wanted to stay with my firstborn. In 1972 now with two children we moved to Wagga Wagga in New South Wales for an academic position for Rob. Another offspring in 1973, and from then until 1977, I was a stay-at-home mum, but still, when time and lack of sleep allowed, I worked on my fireflies. I will always be grateful to John Buck who indirectly enabled me to purchase a microscope and continue my firefly career when I no longer had the support of an academic institution.
From 1977-1984 I worked a maximum of 9 hours a week demonstrating and tutoring various classes in Biology, and from 1985 until my retirement in 1999 I was a full-time academic employee of Charles Sturt University. I fitted the fireflies in when I could as most of my classes were very large and time consuming.
In 1993 I was awarded my Doctor of Philosophy with my thesis on Revisional studies on flashing fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). I finally found some spare time you see!
I have always, apart from John Buck's help, had to be self sufficient in my firefly work. Fortunately taxonomy does not have to be expensive, and since retirement I have had practical if not financial support from Charles Sturt University as an associate and from CSIRO Entomology here in Canberra where we have lived for the past five years.
I knew that I wanted to continue to work on Luciolinae fireflies once I retired, so in early 2000 I set up a home office (we jokingly call it the ‘Australian Firefly Institute’). There was so much that we simply didn’t know and I was eager to try to work out the answers to the puzzles. There is a reason you can see, from my list of publications, why so much was done after I retired.
My most significant collaboration has been with Dr Christine Lambkin of the Queensland Museum. Chris and I have now been working together on firefly projects for over 20 years, and it is Chris who enables me to present all that complicated phylogenetic analysis. No mean feat as Chris's main area of expertise is the order Diptera (flies). I will be forever grateful that we managed to intersect.
Here in Australia we do not have a tradition of watching fireflies nor in knowing anything much about them. You may be unaware that Australia has a very healthy population of 24 species in 7 genera. But there is a reason why so many are simply not even aware they are there, and their habitats are not at risk (apart from thinking they and glowworms are the same!). Many of the Queensland fireflies occur in protected environments at high altitude or in National Parks. A few species occur across the northern coastline and Cape York Peninsula, where other aspects like crocodiles and taipans might deter anyone wanting to view or collect them! In the mangroves along the coast of Queensland if not crocodiles then mosquitoes and midges are a powerful deterrent. While we respond to sightings of fireflies en masse and rush to look at them if the local media outlets tell us they are there, we do not really have a firefly tradition like the United States. Fireflies are not that common around cities, and in the more accessible parts of the country they are often still in out of the way places, sometimes on private properties. It was one of those habitats which was wiped out by bushfires a couple of years ago. With the help of David Finlay (his picture is below in the Australian fireflies section), we try to keep interested observers aware of sightings and encourage pictures so identifications can be attempted.
Since retiring in late 1999, my work extended from just the local area of the Pacific and New Guinea and surrounding Islands to the north eventually to South East Asia and countries in between where the Luciolinae are so common. I have been fortunate to developing great relationships with a number of colleagues living in these areas.
My firefly colleagues know my husband Rob. Suffice it to say that without him and his support none of this would mean anything.