Watching a whole forestful of fireflies flashing together in unison is a truly mesmerizing experience. As I described in an earlier post, males of only a few firefly species are capable of this remarkable feat. Although we still don’t know why this behavior occurs, some researchers at the University of Colorado – Boulder recently developed cool tools to shed new light on how fireflies accomplish this collective behavior.
Using Go-Pro cameras to film Photinus carolinus in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Raphael Sarfati and Orit Peleg were later able to reconstruct the 3D flight paths of individual male fireflies. You can read about their study in this month’s Smithsonian Magazine, or check out their original paper in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
Their findings provide clues into how insects with relatively small brains can perform such seemingly complex synchronous behaviors. By demonstrating how fireflies kick off their synchrony, this research will inspire new advances in swarm robotics. In the future, their tracking methods could also be adapted for community science projects like Firefly Watch in the U.S. to help scientists monitor long-term trends in firefly populations.
So excited to announce that we just published the first-ever comprehensive review about the threats facing fireflies around the globe!
In this article we also describe several things we all can do to give fireflies a brighter future. You can read our article here (we’re tremendously grateful to BioScience for making this Editor’s Choice & freely available).
I’m also delighted to announce my upcoming 1-year sabbatic leave from teaching at Tufts University, starting in May 2020. I’m looking forward to spending more time working on several firefly conservation initiatives, including serving as co-chair for the IUCN Firefly Specialist Group and working with my colleagues at Fireflyers International.
In the meantime, you might enjoy this great article in The Guardian summarizing the work that we & many others have been doing to keep the firefly magic alive!
July 2016: When Japanese fireflies were loved nearly to death – Aeon Magazine
Night workers: How evolution drives the firefly dance – The Guardian
Reviews now rolling in:
“Prepare to be dazzled and amazed.” – Eric Eaton, author of Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America
“What makes Silent Sparks catch fire is Lewis’s breathtaking ability to channel her inner Rachel Carson and bring that ‘sense of wonder’ to the table as the author delves into all things Lampyridae.”-Bruce Fellman, Kent County Daily Times
Nature – “a nocturnal wonder of nature…an illuminating peek into a fascinating corner of field biology.”
Examiner.com – In “this absorbing book … a wealth of easily-assimilated, sometimes jaw-dropping information on the mysterious world of fireflies…gleams brightly from every page.” Harvard Magazine – This “informed, enthusiastic guide to ‘the best-loved insects on Earth’ is reason enough to look forward to summer nights.”
Washington Post – Lewis “tells… icky tales with glee” but then presents “the radiantly appealing aspects of the firefly world… It’s all pretty amazing.”
Friends & Neighbors:
“Your book totally changed the way I look at our backyard fireflies.” Tyler D.
“Silent Sparks just opened a new world for me…thank you for sharing your umwelt.” Kristy F.
“I’ve been waiting for this book for so long! Fireflies are my favorite insects and I enjoy watching them and learning more about their fascinating lives. there have not been any good references to really explain what i’ve been seeing after dark so I’m glad to have this new information. I got two copies and will buy more for Christmas gifts.” Southern Movie Buff (on Amazon)
“With stunning illustrations and accessible text … this book brings new awe to the flashing spectacle and love song of fireflies.” – Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World, Mind of the Raven, and Life Everlasting
“a beautifully written ode to fireflies and their behavior by someone who has made major research discoveries about these fascinating creatures … a book everyone can enjoy.” – John Alcock, author of Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach and When the Rains Come: A Naturalist’s Year in the Sonoran Desert
“rewarding on so many fronts… an enjoyable, informative tour into the lives of fireflies.” – Doug Emlen, author of Animal Weapons and Evolution: Making Sense of Life
“Silent Sparks makes you want to drop whatever you’re doing and devote yourself to learning everything you can about the charismatic, even enlightening, firefly…whose dramatic lives are revealed with humor, insight, and passion.” – Marlene Zuk, author of Paleofantasy,Sex on Six Legs and Riddled with Life
“exudes the curiosity and sheer joy that comes from exploring and celebrating the science of life… this marvelous book reveals a world of wonder that will leave readers breathless with awe.” – Wade Davis, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence