Some fireflies can blink at the same time, and scientists are trying to figure out how

Scientist Orit Peleg has long been fascinated by fireflies that seem to flash lanterns simultaneously-but she has only recently witnessed this phenomenon up close.

Peleg and her colleague Raphael Sarfati went to the Great Smoky Mountains across the border of North Carolina and Tennessee to witness and photograph a large number of Light fishThis is one of the few known species of fireflies whose lanterns are light-emitting organs.

This is a mysterious phenomenon that people have observed with their own eyes for a long time. But until now, it has never been documented in detail or scientifically confirmed.

Peleg, a computer scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said: “It’s really exciting to see it for the first time. It’s beautiful, it’s emotional, and everything is fine.” When it happens Guest host Duncan McCull.

“It’s very beautiful, it’s hard to describe it in words.”

The results are Published in the journal “Science Advances”.

Synchronous system in nature

Peleg first heard of synchronized fireflies while studying for his undergraduate degree in physics.

“I took some courses to teach us how to understand how systems in nature synchronize mechanically. This is a very common behavior in living systems and non-living systems, such as atoms,” she said.

Listen | A physicist described fireflies flashing in unison:

6:42Scientists describe fireflies blinking at the same time

“In these textbooks, they usually use fireflies as… a very relevant example for students, because of course fireflies are very beautiful, and it is easier to imagine fireflies blinking than atoms in your mind.”

Later, when she had her own laboratory, Peleg found herself thinking of those fireflies again. But she was surprised to find that there was very little scientific data on how they timed.

In fact, some scientists in the early 20th century denied that the phenomenon of synchronized flashing even existed, thinking it was accidental or merely a trick of the eyes.

On June 3, 2019, visitors watch synchronized fireflies at the Elkmont Campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hundreds of people come to the campsite to watch this phenomenon every year. (Angely Wright/Asheville Citizen Times/Associated Press)

Observe and record fireflies

So Peleg and Sarfati went straight to the source: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where every year they gather to watch the fireflies crowing in unison.

The light show is part of the mating ceremony of fireflies-for about two weeks, male fireflies use flashing lights and dance to impress females.

The scientists placed two cameras in a bee colony nearly four meters away, with overlapping fields of view. “It’s kind of like our eyes are working, so we can triangulate the distance,” Peleg said.

Then they used a computer program to reconstruct the location of these flashes in time and space in three dimensions.

Wave after wave of flashes

They found that these creatures do not blink at exactly the same time, but in the form of rapid cascading waves, which indicates that they are producing the appearance of synchronized blinking from each other’s cues.

But they still don’t fully understand how fireflies do it.

“This group is very large. It is really very, very large. There are thousands of individuals,” Peleg said.

“A single firefly can only interact with a small part of the group. So what we are trying to understand is how the firefly sees or perceives the flash that occurs next to it, integrates the signal, and then decides when to flash.”

She said that understanding the mechanisms of these fireflies may have practical significance for understanding and improving other synchronization systems (such as telecommunication networks and even the human circulatory system).

“In a sense, sometimes there is universality in nature, and we hope that maybe the firefly results we know can also be projected and applied to all these different systems.”

Written by Hina Goodyear. Interview with Orit Peleg produced by Mehek Mazhar.

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