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Fireflies blink in sync to attract females

Why do large groups of fireflies produce rhythmic, repeated flashes in unison - sometimes lighting up a whole forest at once. Believe it or not, it is to attract the females!

world Updated: Jul 11, 2010 08:05 IST

Why do large groups of fireflies produce rhythmic, repeated flashes in unison - sometimes lighting up a whole forest at once. Believe it or not, it is to attract the females!

Fireflies - a type of beetle - produce bioluminescence as mating tool. Males display a species-specific pattern of flashes while cruising through the air, looking for females.

These patterns consist of one or more flashes, followed by a characteristic pause, during which female fireflies will produce a single response flash if they spot a suitable male, reports Science magazine.

Study co-authors, Andrew Moiseff of the University of Connecticut and Jonathan Copeland of Georgia Southern University, tested the idea that the males of these species synchronise to facilitate the females' ability to recognise the particular flashing pattern of their own species.

Their results showed that females responded more than 80 percent of the time to flashes that were in perfect or in near-perfect unison.

But when the flashes were out of synch, the females' response rate was 10 percent or less.

Of the roughly 2,000 species of fireflies worldwide, scientists estimate about one percent synchronise their flashes over large areas, says a University of Connecticut release.