A warm summer evening in many parts of the world sets the backdrop for a familiar sight: the lightning bug. These winged beetles activate chemical reactions in a portion of their abdomen known as the lantern to emit flickers of light, a process known as bioluminescence. Only a few of the world’s over 2,000 species coordinate their flashes into patterns and are known as synchronous fireflies. Sriram Murali, an Indian filmmaker, filmed a rare gathering of billions of these insects at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in western Tamil Nadu.
Murali captured countless specimens amidst the trees as they produced light pulses that relayed over the forest in vast, wave-like patterns using a combination of moving picture and time-lapse photography. The hue, brightness, and length of the light released are unique to each species, and it aids males and females in recognizing one another during mating displays. The presence of darkness is required for the ceremony to be successful.
Murali has been striving to raise awareness of light pollution through a series of documentaries for the past ten years. He intends to highlight the importance of darkness in the natural world by focusing on the reserve and its evening species. He has been working with scientists and forest officials at the wildlife reserve as part of a project led by Deputy Director M.G. Ganesan to investigate the park’s ecology and identify the several firefly species that live there.