Many visitors visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the southeast of the United States during the summer to witness one of nature’s most spectacular light shows, performed by thousands of male fireflies, an insect that lights up in the dark. , They flash together, glowing in almost perfect harmony.
Thousands of male fireflies perform this breathtaking scene in which their wings flap in the dark as their bellies subtly flash simultaneously in an exciting mating show.
An exciting puzzle
As beautiful as it is, this simultaneous display has been a mystery for centuries. How the firefly chimes in that light dance has become a mystery to scientists.
Interpretations explaining this phenomenon varied. While one explanation attributed the reason for this phenomenon to being pure coincidence, another research paper published in the past in the journal Science saw it as an imaginary image that the viewer sees when his eyes blink.
Scientists’ studies have since proven that the simultaneous flashing of fireflies is real. Some other mathematical models have also shown that these simultaneous flashes develop over time. However, the mechanism by which this synchronization occurs has become a mystery.
Recently, a study published in the journal “The Royal Society Interface” sheds light on this phenomenon.
Orit Peleg, associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States, and her colleagues sought to understand how these simple insects orchestrated these wonderful artistic performances.
The team started its study with a key question – as the physicist and study leader Rafael Sarfati says in the university’s press release – “Do these firefly insects have mechanisms built into them that push them to do this synchronous flash? Or is it an environmentally dependent presumption?”
The team used a holographic technique to build a three-dimensional shape of flashes of a firefly called Photinus carolinus. The scientists noted that the synchronization of the firefly’s flashes was not caused by a rhythmic mechanism built into its bodies, but by its attempt to imitate one another.
Scientists recorded the largest number of these mating shows, which lasted for 90 minutes per day. They spotted the firefly when it began to glow, and then the flash that it caused in a repeated pattern, and the subsequent pause of a few seconds, ending in the flashes of increasing frequency. They noticed that once the flash of the firefly coincided, its light appeared as waves across the terrain of the area over which it was flying.
The team also observed that the shape of the firefly swarm closely followed the terrain. The firefly remained about two meters off the ground, which makes it visible to the females who stayed close to the ground.
Exciting group orchestration
To ensure their conclusions were correct, the team isolated some individual insects in separate tents. He noticed that these isolated insects lost a sense of the rhythm occurring outside the tents, as they flashed intermittently and asynchronously relative to their main swarm.
And it became even more exciting when 15 fireflies were introduced into the tent. At first the blinking was irregular, but as their number increased, the fireflies began to flash together again.
“When you put 20 fireflies together, only then can we simulate and observe what is happening in the wild. They start to flash together regularly and simultaneously,” Sarvati explains. Which means that synchronization is a social event. As the firefly sees each other and then tries to imitate each other, resulting in waves of light with a brilliant rhythm.
However, why these flashes coincide remains a mystery. However, one theory has suggested that periods of darkness – which last for a few seconds – allow males to see a faint flash of females and then respond quickly as soon as they see it.
“This kind of synchronization occurs in many natural systems, including heart cells, which contract and expand together. The neurons in our brains also have that synchronization,” Bellig said.
So a perfect understanding of one of the synchronous processes of nature present in fireflies will help us understand other synchronous processes prevalent in nature. It will also enable us to protect firefly species that are disappearing due to the increasing levels of light pollution.