(Photo: Cesare Ferrari/iStock)

Fireflies have long fascinated people around the world. The ancient Amazonians believed that firefly light was a beacon of hope sent from the gods, and a Japanese legend tells of fireflies that are the ghosts of warriors. Now, a study by SFI External Professor Orit Peleg and her colleagues at Colorado University-Boulder has given us a new reason to appreciate these luminous bugs. Their study of fireflies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, published in Science Advances July 7 and led by Raphaël Sarfati, found that some fireflies flash their lanterns in unison every half-second and look to their neighbors for signals on when to “switch on” — a phenomenon that Peleg, a computer scientist, has described as “mind-blowing.” The work, which involved creating a model of flashing patterns using data from a pair of remote cameras nestled amid the swarm, could help scientists unravel the mystery of other synchronized systems. 

Read the paper, “Self-organization in natural swarms of Photinus carolinus synchronous fireflies,” in Science Advances (July 7, 2021) 

Read the article in The New York Times (July 7, 2021)

Read the article in Yahoo! News (July 7, 2021)

Read the article in Science (July 8, 2021)

Read the article in Physics World (July 9, 2021)

Read the article in Axios (July 10, 2021)

Listen to a related interview, "Orit Peleg on the Collective Behavior of Honeybees and Fireflies," on SFI's Complexity podcast (April 23, 2021)