Updated: 2012-07-01 08:06
By Tan Zongyang (China Daily)
Hundreds of thousands of fireflies take flight in the Firefly Park in Xiamen. The insects glow to attract both mates and prey. Lan Tianyi / For China Daily
Make visiting the Firefly Park in Xiamen, Fujian province, one of the highlights of your summer break this year. Tan Zongyang reports
For Li Yutong, it was not the candles on her cake that shone on the night of her sixth birthday, but the flashing lights of hundreds of thousands of fireflies in the dark.
After making many calls, Li's parents finally succeeded in arranging a family trip to the Firefly Park in Xiamen, Fujian province, as a special gift for the birthday girl.
"Fireflies look like lanterns and lights, and stars!" Li says excitedly, after her adventure at the park with a group of children and their parents. It was her first experience watching fireflies.
The 30-minute tour starts with a video presentation on the science of fireflies and a walk through some exhibits and displays which explain the insects' ecosystem, light-emitting organs, species and living conditions.
Visitors are then given a guided tour where they observe and touch the firefly larvae.
The highlight of the tour is the 10-minute outdoor walk in the valley filled with trees, bushes and ponds, where numerous bugs glow with yellow, green or pale red in the dark as they fly freely or perch on leaves or skim on water.
Although the visitors are thrilled by what they see, they have to stay silent while walking on a 300-meter loop of planks in the valley, which is only lit by LED directional signs, so as not to disturb the fireflies' natural living environment.
"Children usually get very excited when they see the fireflies and will have a lot of questions," Wang Xiaoxiao, a guide, says. "We design the activities to cultivate their appreciation for the beauty of nature."
The first of its kind in the country, the center farms over 10,000 fireflies in a wetland valley that is a favorable ecological environment for the brilliant bugs.
It is also a national-level education base for teaching about green energy production.
Children under 16 are entitled to free tours.
"We set up the park with the hope that the small but beautiful creature can enlighten the environmental consciousness of our next generation," Hou Xiaohui, general manager of the park, told China Daily. He says the park occupies a land area of about 1.3 hectares and is operated by a local LED manufacturer as a non-profit project.
In the past three years, more than 10,000 people have visited the park, which only opens in summer - the best time of the year to observe the insect.
A maximum of 50 families is allowed into the park each day. Visitors have to make reservations for entry permits via telephone or online.
"We realized that big principles, such as global warming, environmental pollution and conservation of energy, are harder for children to understand," Hou says.
"But through the lively activities in the park, the kids appear to accept the green ideas easier, simply because they want to bring the lovely beetles back to the cities."
Li Yutong's father, Li Xiang, says he and his wife decided to bring their daughter to the park to let her experience the fun that they used to have watching fireflies in their villages.
"I grew up in the countryside in Hubei province, where catching fireflies in the forests was one of the sweetest memories," he recalls.
"It is a pity that my daughter, who grew up in the city, can't have the same experience because of pollution in urban areas," he says. "That's why I've decided to bring her here right after I read the news about the park online."
Fan Dongxue, the mother of a 6-year-old from Beijing, took her daughter to the park as a unique stop of their five-day tour of Xiamen.
"Seeing the fireflies once with one's own eyes is a hundred times better than reading about it in the textbooks," she says. Her daughter, she says, was very impressed with the visit and she was eager to do further research after the trip.
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