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August 19, 2010

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Love is in the air but cruel fate befalls a symbol of romance

THEY are seen as a symbol of romance but behind that delightful image lies a different story.

Two days after the Qixi Festival, China's equivalent of Valentine's Day, the firefly business has now cooled down. The insects, which are rarely seen in the city these days, had been much in demand for the festival.

But to get to Shanghai, many die on the long journey amid high temperatures, insect experts said.

Online venders claim fireflies are ideal presents for lovers.

They cost 5 yuan (US$0.7) to 10 yuan each, and buyers take at least 50 at a time. The insects are sold in jars with tiny air vents.

"Tens of thousands of fireflies were sold around the festival," said Qiu Yu, a vender who opened an online store on

"Most people in city like to watch fireflies glittering in the night sky."

Most of the fireflies sold are from other provinces, such as Yunnan and Shandong. Store owners said almost all the insects were specially bred for the purpose and very few were from the wild.

Fireflies are very sensitive to humidity and temperature. Therefore, even if they traveled by air and by air-conditioned bus, still a large number of them would die on the way to the city, the store owners said.

"Once 1,600 fireflies died among 3,000 on the way here," said Qiu. "That's a great loss to me because a single transport would cost me 100 yuan."

The survivors also don't live long because of the city heat. At most they can live for two to three days.

Insect experts said fireflies usually live in an environment where temperatures are between 27 and 28 degrees, thus they would die very quickly in the Shanghai summer.

"Many years ago, Shanghai once was a habitat for fireflies," said Jin Xingbao, deputy director of Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Museum.

"But the deterioration of the environment and the change of climate chased the insects away."

But not all youngsters think fireflies are romantic.

"Compared to fireflies, I prefer efficient light bulbs, which are lighter and cheaper," said Iris Hu, a 24-year-old local postgraduate student. "I don't see fireflies as a symbol of romance."

Hu said it was cruel that so many insects had to die just because of someone's dreams of romance.


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