My Own (Little) Sparkle of Fireflies
I consider myself to be very lucky as I have my very own sparkle of fireflies. ‘A Sparkle’ is the common noun for fireflies though ‘a light posse’ is also used. Our Udon Thani home is tucked away at the end of a dirt track that runs along a small river. This river is home to my sparkle of fireflies. It’s a small sparkle. At most I can see a hundred in one night.
Most evening I like to take a stroll just after dusk to visit my sparkle. I find them mesmerising. Not just for the magical floating, fairy light effect but also as they fly over the river the fireflies create a mirror image of themselves. The symmetry of the fireflies and their reflected partners makes for quite a light show though one of some sadness too. Adult fireflies, the ones that admit light, live only for one week. Their sole purpose at this stage is to find a mate, reproduce and die. So I look at this amazing show knowing that this is also their final song and dance.
My First Friendly Firefly
I first encountered a firefly as a young five year old boy whilst living on the banks of Lake Michigan in North America. It was a hot summer night and I couldn’t sleep causing me to notice a small yellow light moving around the room. It was alternating between making large circles before suddenly switching to a zigzagging pattern. Being fearful of bugs at that age, it took several panicked runs to my parents bedroom before finally being convinced that I was in no danger. Its just a friendly firefly, they explained, which had come to light my room for me. That night I lay awake happily mesmerised by this circling, zigzagging light and since then I have always relished the joy of seeing these magical insects.
When I first came to Thailand, fireflies were not on my mind. So it was a pleasure indeed to find that here we actually have them in abundance. Thailand is home to over 100 species of fireflies but particularly and uniquely Synchronous Fireflies. These, for mating purpose, sync their bioluminescence like a string of Christmas tree lights that flash on and off. It is believed they do this to avoid confusing the female with too many lights from different locations. Whatever their reason, in doing this they have given us one of the world’s most spectacular natural light shows.
Synchronous Fireflies – Living Work of Art
And it is possible to go and see synchronous fireflies in Thailand. Their locations are well know and they are regularly studied. First, to get a sense of the show that awaits you, I would like to direct you to this video below. Part experiment and part living work of art it was created by two artists who used controlled LEDs to encourage wild Pteroptyx Malaccae to synch their bioluminese to create stunning patterns. The video is surely worth more than the 160k views it has earned at time of posting so please do view and share if you enjoyed it as much as me.
Where to See Synchronous Fireflies
The best time to go and see fireflies is during the rainy season, May to October, when populations are at their maximum size. Fireflies are attracted to water so you can sparkles of fireflies along most river banks and mangrove swamps. Thought to be sure to see a spectacular showing of synchronous flies, head to of the following:
1. Khao Kho National Park
The closest place to Udon Thani is Khao Kho National Park, a five hour drive away. It’s a popular destination for reasons beyond fireflies. Its high elevation means cooler temperatures and wonderful morning views across mist filled valleys. For the best firefly experience stay in one of the campsites or small isolated resorts and then follow a trail into the forests at dusk. Here, especially in summer, the fireflies are very dense though avoid shining your torch directly at them as this can be fatal.
2. Amphawa Floating Market Firefly Boat Tours
Probably the easiest and most accessible place to see Synchronous Fireflies is at Amphawa Foating Market 80 km outside Bangkok. Here you can take a boat ride from the market down the Mae Klong River. The boats will stop and allow you to watch the fireflies that live in the Lamphu trees on the river bank. Boats normally take up to 20 people and the price is between 50-100 baht per person. They depart all year round between 6pm and 9pm.
3. Phrom Yothi Military Barrack
Another easily accessible location to see fireflies is Phrom Yothi Military barrack in Muang District, Prachiburi Province. The camp is a two hour drive out of Bangkok. The forest around the base is home to a sparkle that numbers in the thousands. For six weeks each year, in June and July, the camp is opened for the evening for people to view the fireflies. Superb experience especially for families with young kids.
4. Kaeng Krachan National Park
This is a great option for the more determined traveller as here you can see tens of thousands of fireflies grouped togethers. Kaeng Krachan National Park is a nature reserve 85km from Hua Hin and 200km from Bangkok. It sits on the boarder of Thailand and Myanmar. Like Khao Kho National Park, there are many reasons beyond fireflies to come here. This includes 450 species of birds, 300 of butterfiles, and over 30 types of mammals including wild leopards, tigers, bears and elephants. Stay in one of the two campsite and follow the firefly trails down the many streams and rivers. Guides are available to escort you safely.
If, like me, you adore fireflies then do go soon. Firefly populations all over the world are declining due to urban development and light pollution encroaching on their habitat. Tales of bright swarms that would light up entire rivers enough to be navigable without artificial light are sadly now just tales.
Fireflies communicate by light through the darkness in order to find mates. So it would seem that as we light up ever more of the world, our friendly fireflies can no longer connect and mate thus ending another species.
My Sparkle Is Also Declining
I was recently reminded of my boyhood encounter with a firefly. Lying awake in bed here in Udon Thani, I saw a firefly circling my room. It showed the same flying pattern, alternating between circles and zig-zags, as its American cousin 45 years ago though coloured more green rather than yellow. I was reading the latest news on my mobile before sleeping – a poor habit I know – and the light from my phone seemed to attract the firefly. It flew down and landed on my hand staying there quite comfortably and flashing its light at me. An act it repeated for the next three nights in a row before, I assume, dying.
I fear my sparkle will soon vanish just. Once we were an isolated villa but new houses have been built along our river, new street lamps added and vehicular traffic is now a constant. Numbers are visibly down, and dramatically so, since we first came here 10 years ago.
My sparkle may not survive but for now I still take great delight in taking a stroll at dusk to watch their magical show and marvel in the synchronous beauty of their last and final beautiful dance of light.