FIREFLY, s. Called in South Indian vernaculars by names signifying ‘Lightning Insect.’

A curious question has been discussed among entomologists, &c., of late years, viz. as to the truth of the alleged rhythmical or synchronous flashing of firefli es when visible in great numbers. Both the present writers can testify to the fact of a distinct effect of this kind. One of them can never forget an instance in which he witnessed it, twenty years or more b efore he was aware that any one had published, or questioned, the fact. It was in descending the Chandor Ghat, in Nasik District of the Bombay Presidency, in the end of May or beginning of June 1843, during a fine night preceding the rains. There was a large amphitheatre of forest-covered hills, and every leaf of every tree seemed to bear a firefly. They flashed and intermitted throughout the whole area in apparent rhythm and sympathy. It is, we suppose, possible that this may have been a deceptive impression, though it is difficult to see how it could originate. The suggestions made at the meetings of the Entomological Society are utterly unsatisfactory to those who have observed the phenomenon. In fact it may be said that those suggested explanations only assume that the soidisant observers did not observe what they alleged. We quote several independent testimonies to the phenomenon.

1579.—“Among these trees, night by night, did show themselues an infinite swarme of fierie seeming wormes flying in the aire, whose bodies (no bigger than an ordinarie flie) did make a shew, and giue such light as euery twigge on euery tree had beene a lighted candle, or as if that place had beene the starry spheare.”—Drake’s Voyage, by F. Fletcher, Hak. Soc. 149.

1675.—“We … left our Burnt Wood on the Right-hand, but entred another made us better Sport, deluding us with false Flashes, that you would have thought the Trees on a Flame, and presently, as if untouch’d by Fire, they retained their wonted Verdure. The Coolies beheld the Sight with Horror and Amazement … where we found an Host of Flies, the Subject both of our Fear and Wonder.… This gave my Thoughts the Contemplation of that Miraculous Bush crowned with Innocent Flames, … the Fire that consumes everything seeming rather to dress than offend it.”—Fryer, 141–142.

1682.—“Fireflies (de vaur-vliegen) are so called by us because at eventide, whenever they fly they burn so like fire, that from a distance one fancies to see so many lanterns; in fact they give light enough to write by. … They gather in the rainy season in great multitudes in the bushes and trees, and live on the flowers of the trees. There are various kinds.”—Nieuhoff, ii. 291.


“Ere fireflies trimmed their vital lamps, and ere
Dun Evening trod on rapid Twilight’s heel,
His knell was rung.”—Grainger, Bk. I.
“Yet mark! as fade the upper skies,
Each thicket opes ten thousand eyes.
Before, behind us, and above,
The fire-fly lights his lamp of love,
Retreating, chasing, sinking, soaring,
The darkness of the copse exploring.”

Heber, ed. 1844, i. 258.

1865.—“The bushes literally swarm with fireflies, which flash out their intermittent light almost contemporaneously; the effect being that for an instant the exact outline of all the bushes stands prominently forward, as if lit up with electric sparks, and next moment all is jetty dark—darker from the momentary illumination that preceded. These flashes succeed one another every 3 or 4 seconds for about 10 minutes, when an interval of similar duration takes place; as if to allow the insects to regain their electric or phosphoric vigour.”—Cameron Our Tropical Possessions in Malayan India, 80–81.

The passage quoted from Mr. Cameron’s book was read at the Entom. Soc. of London in May 1865, by the Rev. Hamlet Clarke, who added that: “Though he was utterly unable to give an explanation of the phenomenon, he could so far corroborate Mr. Cameron as to say that he had himself witnessed this simultaneous flashing; he had a vivid recollection of a particular glen in the Organ Mountains where he had on several occasions noticed the contemporaneous exhibition of their light by numerous individuals, as if they were acting in concert.”
Mr. McLachlan then suggested that this might be caused by currents of wind, which by inducing a number of the insects simultaneously to change the direction of their flight, might occasion a momentary concealment of their light.

Mr. Bates had never in his experience received the impression of any simultaneous flashing.… he regarded the contemporaneous flashing as an illusion produced probably by the swarms of insects flying

  By PanEris using Melati.

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