Self-organization in natural swarms of Photinus carolinus synchronous fireflies Journal Article uri icon



  • Fireflies flashing in unison is a mesmerizing manifestation of animal collective behavior and an archetype of biological synchrony. To elucidate synchronization mechanisms and inform theoretical models, we recorded the collective display of thousands of Photinus carolinus fireflies in natural swarms, and provide the first spatiotemporal description of the onset of synchronization. At low firefly density, flashes appear uncorrelated. At high density, the swarm produces synchronous flashes within periodic bursts. Using three-dimensional reconstruction, we demonstrate that flash bursts nucleate and propagate across the swarm in a relay-like process. Our results suggest that fireflies interact locally through a dynamic network of visual connections defined by visual occlusion from terrain and vegetation. This model illuminates the importance of the environment in shaping self-organization and collective behavior.

publication date

  • January 27, 2021

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • January 28, 2021 6:45 AM

Full Author List

  • Sarfati R; Hayes JC; Peleg O

author count

  • 3

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