Many people who grew up outside of cities have fond memories of fireflies. Seeing these magical insects light up backyards heralds the arrival of summer and evokes childhood memories. But have you ever seen billions of fireflies put on a light show so spectacular that it lights up an entire forest? Fortunately, Sriram Murali has—and he has documented everything for the rest of the world to see.
Murali, a Google employee, has spent the last ten years working in his spare time to raise awareness about light pollution. And for the past few years, he’s been fascinated by fireflies. These incredible insects aren’t actually flies, but rather flying beetles. All 2,000 species of fireflies have light-producing organs that emit 100% efficient light. This bioluminescence aids mating by attracting females of the same species.
Fireflies can flash in unison in very rare cases. This occurs only in certain species and only when the density of fireflies is high enough. So, when Murali discovered a 2012 study claiming that this synchronised flashing occurs at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) in Coimbatore District, Tamil Nadu, India, he knew he had to go see for himself. Murali and ATR Deputy Director M.G. Ganesan began researching the ecology and conservation of these fireflies after contacting the reserve.
Murali, a skilled photographer, filmmaker, and storyteller, remembers the thrill of seeing fireflies for the first time. “It was like walking into a dreamland,” he says to My Modern Met. “I often wonder what life would be like on other planets in the universe, and this phenomenon gave me a glimpse of that.” It’s amazing how such a small insect can coordinate so well and put on such a show.”
Murali transports us to this magical world through still photography and a short film. It’s incredible to see these small living creatures taking over a space that is normally dominated by elephants and tigers. But it’s their domain at night. Murali adds that the fact that these fireflies can thrive in this environment is a wonderful testament to ATR’s conservation efforts.
Fireflies, which spend the majority of their lives as larvae, are essential to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. This is due to the fact that larvae consume a large number of soft-bodied insects such as snails, slugs, and earthworms. Unfortunately, fireflies are declining all over the world as a result of habitat loss, artificial lighting, and pesticide use.
So, what is Murali’s best piece of safety advice? “It is critical to reduce artificial lighting and use only what is needed, when it is needed, to help firefly populations in rural and urban areas.” This also benefits birds and other nocturnal species. Maintaining a backyard garden attracts insects that fireflies consume. We can all do our part to restore the firefly magic everywhere.”
Countless fireflies synchronise their flashes to light up India’s Anamalai Tiger Reserve.
Sriram Murali, who is part of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Firefly Specialist Group, documented the rare moment.
Only a few species of fireflies synchronize their flashes.
They do so as part of a mating call to attract females of the same species.