Missy and Rob Altenburg and their 9-year-old triplets laughed last Sunday when Monet, their 15-month-old bearded dragon, jumped up to snag an unsuspecting firefly. The family often took Monet outside in the afternoons for some fresh air and exercise in their Jarrettsville yard, and joked about glowing poop after his snack.
Their amusement turned to sorrow the next day, however, when Monet began shaking and throwing up. A quick call to the vet produced horror: Monet’s body was filled with toxins from the fireflies, and there was nothing anyone could do. At 3 p.m., he died.
Sadly, it’s not an uncommon story. The Internet abounds with stories of lizard owners whose pets snarfed down lightening bugs and died within hours. The problem is lucibufagin, a toxic chemical in fireflies that attacks the heart of their predators.
Having the toxin in a bearded dragon’s body for more than an hour proves fatal in almost all cases, according to researchers at Cornell University. The same is true for most chameleons, tree frogs, and some birds. The researchers said that while many lizard species have evolved to not eat the insects as a matter of instincts, bearded dragons haven’t yet reached that point.
“We have three friends who have dragons, and none of them knew [about the toxins in fireflies],” Missy Altenburg said. "We are heartbroken."