Synchronous Flashing in Fireflies

The wings are on and it’s starting to look more like the real thing.

Some male fireflies flash in sync over large areas. This species is apparently the only in the United States that does it. They can light up whole forests or hillsides with waves of synchronous display.

I found a recent explanation of the phenomenon here, but I’m not sure I understand it fully. Males fly around flashing to attract the females’ attention. The experiment showed that the females’ response rate was 10% or less with asynchronous flashing but over 80% if in sync. And if I’m reading it correctly, this suggests that it’s easier for females to track the movement of specific males when in sync, since out of sync “the female would see a cluttered landscape of unrecognizable flashes”.

I got to see some synchronous flashing myself last month. Japan’s GenjiBotaru does it too, though it wasn’t over a large area. I saw gangs of five to ten fireflies flying in groups and flashing in perfect sync. Lucky, since I was planning to incorporate it into my story.

Firefly Head Model

No luck finding a dead firefly yet, so I’m having to rely on whatever resources I can scrape from the internet. Luckily I found this fantastic image of a head. There’s only the one angle, and it’s impossible to see what’s going on behind those tusk-like structures, but it’s enough for a decent model for close-ups. I’ll add more detail with displacement and other maps.

I didn’t know insect mouths were so complex. Click here for an excellent description and interactive guide.

Modelling Start

I’m starting with the fireflies.

I was considering stylising them, like the insects in “A Bug’s Life“, but I’m not really aiming this at children. Although they’re central to the story, they won’t be appearing as characters. There’s no need for them to be cute.

The tool I use is Autodesk’s 3ds Max. Most of my work involves space, so it’s not often I get the chance to model something like this. I’ve started with a combination of spline and poly modelling. This is also my opportunity to get to know the Graphite Modelling Tools. That toolbar has sat unused since it was first introduced.