Two Years Later, Passion For Say's Firefly Still Glows

Mar 15, 2017

West Lafayette students lobby for legislation that would designate Say's Firefly the state insect on March 4, 2017 at the Indiana State Museum.
Credit By Chris Morisse Vizza/WBAA News

State lawmakers, for a second year in a row, have clipped the wings of West Lafayette grade-school students who’ve been lobbying legislators to designate Say’s Firefly as the state insect.

Republican leaders in the Indiana House and Senate refused to hold hearings or vote on three bills that would recognize the species identified 190-years ago in New Harmony, Indiana by entomologist Thomas Say. 

The students say they’ll campaign for the firefly until state leaders see the light.

Sporting glow sticks decorated to look like fireflies, current and former Cumberland Elementary School second-graders are on a mission to tell others about Say’s Firefly.  

“You can get some of these, and then you can get some of these,” one of the students tells visitors.

Rosanna and Denver Howlett say they were aware of the campaign to name a state insect.

But the Indianapolis couple but became full-fledged supporters after encountering teacher Maggie Samudio’s students.

“It was unbelievable,” Denver Howlett says. “She was telling us about all this before we actually started to catch what it was all about.”  “She’s very knowledgeable,” adds Rosanna Howlett.

Samudio, surrounded by a busload of kids, their parents and siblings, spent a recent Saturday at the Indiana Science Museum spreading knowledge of Say’s Firefly and the chemical reaction that creates the insect’s glow.

“And, there’s our second-graders doing basic chemistry,” Samudio explains to passersby.

While the young students are learning about light producing enzymes, Indiana’s New Harmony settlement and Thomas Say’s international contributions to the science of entomology, they’re perplexed as to why legislative leaders won’t vote on, much less talk about, the historical and scientific importance of the firefly native to the state.

When a visitor asks why the legislation isn’t advancing, Samudio explains the political landscape surrounding Hoosier state symbols.

“Because they got made fun of because of the Sugar Cream Pie in 2009,” Samudio says.

Lafayette State Representative Sheila Klinker confirms she and other local legislators have been told the problem is public debate over making the Sugar Cream Pie an official state designee.

“I think there’s just a fear that people will make fun of us,” Klinker says.

But in the years since getting creamed for honoring a pie, state lawmakers have voted to designate an official state rifle.

And, Indiana’s Senators successfully lobbied the U.S. Government Publishing Office to revise its style manual and officially designate Indiana natives as Hoosiers, not Indianans.

The firefly project launched when one of Samudio’s former second-graders, Kayla Xu, wondered why Indiana was among five states that didn’t have an official insect.

Now a fourth-grader at Happy Hollow School, Xu is pragmatic. She says she’s never tasted sugar cream pie, and personally doesn’t have an opinion about the dessert. But, she says, the debate surrounding it leaves a sour taste in her mouth.

“It just seems a little more legit to me to do something more like living, than food,” Xu says.

In December, Senate President Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma each received a letter of support from the Curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences, the national organization of which Thomas Say was a founding member, and a group that considers him to be the “Father of American Entomology.” 

A month later, the Senate bill was referred to that chamber’s legislative graveyard – the Rules Committee – where bills are said to go to die.

Maggie Samudio, Kayla Xu and other students have already written some-500 letters to Indiana schools asking them to join the firefly cause. And on the day the kids campaigned at the Indiana State Museum, visitor Jane Ann Buchanan stopped to encourage the kids to continue their advocacy.

“Just keep doing lots of things because you never know who you’re going to meet,” Buchanan says. “And I’m going to show you why.”

She pulls out her cell phone and displays a picture of herself with then-Governor Mike Pence, whom she met at a different museum event.

“Little did I know that I would be speaking to the Vice President,” says Buchanan.

Kayla Xu says she remains as committed as when she began.

“We’ve made up our minds that we’re going to finish this,” she says. “We’re not going to stop and say, ‘I give up.’”

What’s not known is how long it might take – and how old Kayla might be – if and when the campaign for Say’s Firefly succeeds.