Watch as Billions of Fireflies Simultaneously Light Up a Nature Reserve in India

Forest in India Lit Up with Fireflies

Many people who grew up outside of urban centers have fond memories connected to fireflies. Seeing these magical insects light up backyards is a sign of summer and conjures up nostalgic childhood moments. But, have you ever seen billions of fireflies put on a light show so brilliant that they light up an entire forest at the same time? Luckily, Sriram Murali has—and he documented everything for the world to see.

Murali, who works for Google, has spent the last 10 years working to raise awareness about light pollution in his spare time. And for the past few years, he's turned his attention to fireflies. These incredible insects aren't actually flies, but are rather beetles that can take flight. All of the 2,000 species of fireflies have light-producing organs that emit light that is 100% efficient. This bioluminescence helps with mating, as it attracts females of the same species.

In very rare instances, fireflies can flash in synchronicity. This only happens in certain species and only if there is the right density of fireflies. So when Murali found a 2012 study stating that this synchronized flashing occurs at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) in Coimbatore District, Tamil Nadu, India, he knew he needed to see it for himself. After contacting the reserve, Murali and ATR Deputy Director M.G. Ganesan began researching the ecology and conservation of these fireflies.

Murali, who is a skilled photographer, filmmaker, and storyteller, recalls the special feeling of seeing the fireflies for the first time. “It was as if I walked into a dreamland,” he tells My Modern Met. “I often wonder how life would be on other planets elsewhere in the universe and I felt this phenomenon gave me a glimpse of that. It’s fascinating that such a tiny insect coordinates so well and puts on a grand show.”

Through still photography and a short film, Murali brings us into this magical world. It's incredible to see these small living creatures taking over the space—a space that is dominated by elephants and tigers during the day. But at night, it's their domain. And Murali points out that the fact that these fireflies are able to thrive in this environment is a wonderful testament to the conservation work that ATR has done.

Fireflies, which spend most of their life as larvae, are critical to maintaining a balanced ecosystem. This is because larvae feed on soft-bodied insects like snails, slugs, and earthworms in large quantities. Unfortunately, fireflies are in decline around the world due to habitat loss, artificial light, and pesticide usage.

So what is Murali's best advice for keeping them safe? “To help firefly populations in rural areas and cities, it is important to reduce artificial lighting, and use only what’s needed, when it is needed. This also helps the birds and many other nocturnal species. Maintaining a backyard garden invites insects that the fireflies feed on. We can all play our small part in bringing back the firefly magic everywhere.”

Watch as billions of fireflies synchronize their flashes to illuminate India's Anamalai Tiger Reserve.

Sriram Murali, who is part of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Firefly Specialist Group, documented the rare moment.

Synchronized Fireflies in at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve by Sriram Murali

Only a few species of fireflies synchronize their flashes.

Forest in India Lit Up with Fireflies

They do so as part of a mating call to attract females of the same species.

Synchronized Fireflies in at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve by Sriram Murali

Sriram Murali: Instagram | Vimeo
Anamalai Tiger Reserve: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Sriram Murali.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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