Inside the secret lives of synchronous fireflies

Inside the secret lives of synchronous fireflies
A stacked photograph of Photinus carolinus fireflies flashing in the wild. Credit: Peleg Lab

During typical summers in the southeastern U.S., streams of visitors travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to witness one of nature’s most spectacular displays of light: thousands of male fireflies, all flashing together in near-perfect harmony.


“This is the most beautiful biological phenomenon that I’ve ever witnessed,” said Orit Peleg, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In a study published today in the Journal of The Royal Society Interface, she and her lab members shed new light on this beautiful phenomenon—striving to understand how relatively simple insects manage to coordinate such feats of synchronization.

The team discovered that the light shows may be more complicated than scientists realized: Rather than flash according to some innate rhythm, the fireflies seem to observe what

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