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A Brief Introduction to Synchrony and flashing in Fireflies

Fireflies use light to find and communicate with potential mates. Most North American firefly species are rovers, twinkling in the characteristic patterns of their species as the fly. Southeast Asian fireflies in contrast flash synchronously in a spectacular communal display for their mates.

Males of the Pteroptyx genus congregate in trees near water and flash rhythmically for several hours per night. In cycles lasting several seconds, "firefly trees" appear at first completely dark until all of the constituent fireflies light up simultaneously. Often, the same tree acts as a locus for such congregations for several nights consecutively. Roving males are attracted by the group's light, fly to the tree, and join in the synchronous flashing. The tree, in this way becomes a "quasi-permanent" landmark.(Buck, Buck 1966)

The first Western description of this spectacular behavior was recorded in Bangkok in 1727. Serious biological study began around the beginning of the 20th century. John Bonner Buck (the Buck referenced in almost all of our citations) and his wife, Elizabeth (the other Buck in several of our citations, not a typo) are responsible for most of what we know today about this beautiful phenomenon.

Though we would love to see the answers to all of Tinbergen's questions about this amazing behavior, there is currently no published research in existence regarding the development of synchronous flashing in Pteroptyx. Existent studies of the development of bioluminescence and synchronous behavior seperately are not relevant to the question of their combination. Therefore, in place of ontogeny of synchronous flashing, we provide pages dedicated in more depth to the mechanisms of bioluminescence and synchrony.