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Bethany Beach, Del. – Peering through the darkness under the faint light of a peach-colored moon, wildlife biologist Jason Davis spots a telltale green flash in the bushes.

Quick as a flash himself, Davis arcs a long-handled mesh net through the humid coastal air, ensnaring his tiny target.

Ignoring the mosquitoes, Davis heads to the open bed of his pickup truck, opens up a notebook-size metal testing kit and begins examining his find. Two minutes later, he makes his pronouncement.

“That is what I am calling bethaniensis,” he declares.

“Photuris bethaniensis,” aka the Bethany Beach Firefly, was first identified in the 1950s and has been found only in a sliver of southern Delaware coastland. Now environmental groups are shining a beacon on the luminescent beetle, whose unique habitat is threatened by coastal development, sea level rise, invasive plants and insecticides.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, both based in Oregon, are pushing for the federal Endangered Species list to include its first firefly.

Their petition to the Department of Interior says the Bethany Beach Firefly “is at immediate risk of extinction” from the “imminent destruction” of much of its habitat, noting plans to build expensive beach homes in one of the largest of the rare freshwater swales where the firefly has been found. The swales are shallow depressions tucked among sand dunes and fed by underground aquifers and rain water.

The Bethany Beach Firefly is already on Delaware’s endangered species list, but that only it makes it illegal to transport, possess or sell them. The state has been unable to intervene in the development project because, unlike other states, Delaware doesn’t regulate most freshwater wetlands, which account for about 75% of all wetlands in Delaware. State environmental secretary Shawn Garvin suggests that should change.

Immediate federal protection is unlikely.

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