Our Very Own Synchronous Fireflies

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.

Discover Udon Thani Synchoronus Fireflies as Seen at Nakara Villas and Glamping
Synchronous Fireflyas Seen at Nakara Villas and Glamping

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.

Experiment in the mangrove forests of Thailand. Thousands of live fireflies are made to synchronise their flashes with a few computer controlled LED’s.

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.

Discover Udon Thani Kaho Kho National Park Offers Misty Mornings and Synchronous Fireflies at Night
Kaho Kho National Park Offers Misty Mornings and Synchronous Fireflies at Night

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.

Discover Udon Thani: Fireflies at Phrom Yothi Military Camp
Fireflies at Phrom Yothi Military Camp. The camp is open for 6 weeks a year for people to view them

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.

Discover Udon Thani: Synchronous Fireflies and Birds at Kaeng Krachan National Park
Many Reasons to Visit Kaeng Krachan National Park including Synchronous Fireflies, 450 Species of Birds and 30 different wild mammals.

Vanishing Fireflies

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.

What Glitters is Gold: Golden Tortoise Beetles

A Wonderful Christmas Present: A Tortoise Beetle

A few months ago I never knew these amazing pieces of nature existed. Then on Christmas Day 2020, I awoke to find a Spotted Tortoise Beetle sitting happily on our bedroom balcony railing.

It was stunning to see with its transparent shell and distinctive black, yellow and white colouring. Research led me to discover the whole species of tortoise beetles (or Charidotella sexpunctata) and their amazing kaleidoscope styles and colour schemes.

Nature was clearly at her most creative when she evolved tortoise beetles. It was also a very special Christmas surprise at the end of a difficult year.

Spotted Tortoise Beetle Seen at Nakara Villas and Glamping
Spotted Tortoise Beetle

Golden Tortoise Beetles – Little Flying Gold Nuggets

My Spotted Tortoise Beetle stayed with us for several minutes before flying off to munch on the leaves of a nearby bush. It seemed a lucky encounter though shortly afterwards tortoise beetles faded from my mind.

Then, in summer of 2021 as we waited the first rains of the year, I saw a flying gold nugget. At least that was what it looked like to me. The shiny, gold metallic brightness was unmissable even from 20m away.

Mystified, I wandered out into the garden to discover my first Golden Tortosie Beetle. An even more beautiful and stunning species than its spotted cousin: the same transparent shell, the same funny legs extending out but this one has a brilliant gold colouring with deep red splashes.

I tried to take a photograph but it’s reflectivity was so intense that it crashed the camera on my iphone! Yet it was still amazing to see and to just know they existed….and existed in our garden too!

Golden Nuggets Every Day

Rather like my Spotted Tortoise Beetle, I thought my encounter with a Golden Tortoise Beetle was just another lucky one off chance encounter. After having never seen one in 50 years, to see two in six months was quite something.

However, a few days later we were visited by another adult Golden Tortise Beetle. This one flew through an open door and plumped himself right down on our sofa bang in the middle of my son Eugene and I.

Showing no fear at all, he seemed quite comfortable walking on our hands and saying hello before finally also flying off! This time we caught the action on video!

Incidentally, though you can’t see it on the video, they do change colour from bright gold to a dark red depending on their mood, hydration levels and age. How they do this is, apparently, still a mystery.

Golden Tortoise Beetles at Nakara Villas & Glamping

Tortoise Beetles: Strange Lava, Beautiful Bugs

Now we are seeing Golden Tortoise Beetles every day – and often several at once. Even as I sit here I can see two on happily ascending our living room window. Another three are walking upside down, spiderman-style, on the inside of veranda roof. Another two are flying from leaf to leaf sending flashes of brilliant gold whilst their flying around our morning glory tree.

We do now understand that they will be us for a short period of time as they are dormant during the winter months. Hopefully this will give our morning glory trees a chance to recuperate.

We have though enjoyed learning about these bugs and watching them through their entire lifecycle. Typically mating begins in spring (and from our observations they are very amorous animals) after which the female lays multiple eggs on the underside of a shaded leaf.

Amorous golden tortosie beetles seen at Nakara Villas and Glamping
Love Bugs: Amorous golden tortoise beetles

The beetles are first born as lava after about 10 days. It must be said and actually look quite frightening (thing space horror films) compared to their adult forms. Initially they stay clumped together and the mother beetle returns regularly to feed them.

Golden tortoise beetles lava at Nakara Villas and Glamping
Golden Tortoise Beetles – Early Lava Stage

They then go through 9 different lava stages before emerging as full adults about 40 days after birth. Each of these stages seem to be weirder than the previous and moving further away from the finished article than nearer to it.

Late stage lava golden tortosie bettles seen at Nakara Villas and Glamping
Beauty & The Beast – Late Stage Lava

At which point they mainly spend their days eating leaves before entering their dormant stage in winter. And they do eat a lot! A single beetle seems able to eat a fair chink out of a morning glory tree leaf!

Hungry golden tortosie beetles seen at Nakara Villas and Glamping
Never Knowingly on a Diet: a Golden Tortoise Beetle Happily Munching

Whilst we worry about our morning glory trees, which are seemingly theuir absolute favourite food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we are excited to have these amazing bugs with us at Nakara Villas and Glamping. Rather like their red ladybird cousins, they seem so friendly, happy and curious. They are joyous to see and it is still incredible to spot the flashes of gold as they fly around our garden!

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