29-Fire: Lighting the skies with fireflies

Did you ever wonder how random flashes of fireflies gradually acquire synchrony? Studies have shown that  this surreal coordination of twinkling occurs through a natural cadence among certain species of fireflies during the mating season.

Scientist Orit Peleg wears many hats. She’s a biophysicist and a computer scientist. Peleg and her group of researchers have arrived at some of these conclusions by trekking through national parks in the United States during the mating season of fireflies. They camp in the forest to observe the fireworks of these lightning bugs and have come back stunned by the visual appeal and mathematics of these pyrotechnics. 

This episode was produced by Anupama Chandrasekaran and mixed by Collin Warren. Illustration by Jace Steiner.


Shane Hanlon:                          00:00                Hi Vicky.

Vicky Thompson:                       00:01                Hi Shane.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:02                Do you have any fond memories of fireflies? Or wait, no, we’ve talked about this before, I call them lightning bugs. You call them lightning bugs?

Vicky Thompson:                       00:10                I call them lightning bugs.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:11                Okay. Any fond memories of fireflies/lightning bugs, or situations with such?

Vicky Thompson:                       00:17                Well, I collected them in things when I was a kid, right? You put them in jars.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:22                And what would you do with them?

Vicky Thompson:                       00:24                Forget about them. Murder them, basically, unintentionally.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:28                Yeah.

Vicky Thompson:                       00:29                Yeah. But then are there as many fireflies/lightning bugs around?

Shane Hanlon:                          00:35                I actually don’t… Well, so where we live, no. We live in the suburbs. I see them, growing up in rural Pennsylvania-

Vicky Thompson:                       00:42                Rural Pennsylvania.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:43                … we’d see them all the time. Yeah, rural Pennsylvania.

Vicky Thompson:                       00:45                Sorry.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:47                It’s a common retort of mine. A refrain, I guess.

Vicky Thompson:                       00:52                Yeah. Anyway.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:53                But no, I don’t think we see them that often.

Vicky Thompson:                       00:58                Yeah.

Shane Hanlon:                          00:58                For me, same thing. I grew up, they were around, we’d catch them. I have to say though, so I recently got married.

Vicky Thompson:                       01:07                Okay, yeah.

Shane Hanlon:                          01:08                And this isn’t just me, “Hooray, me marriage!” But kind of. But also…

Vicky Thompson:                       01:13                We can do that, yeah.

Shane Hanlon:                          01:14                My partner and I met in the way that many millennials meet these days, is over the internet. This was back in the early days of online dating.

Vicky Thompson:                       01:23                Did I know that?

Shane Hanlon:                          01:24                Well, you do now.

Vicky Thompson:                       01:24                Anyway, okay.

Shane Hanlon:                          01:28                And actually, she read at our wedding our first two chats to one another.

Vicky Thompson:                       01:34                What?

Shane Hanlon:                          01:34                Which, they are super cringeworthy, especially mine. Mine’s real bad. But in hers, and I do explicitly remember this, she’s from Tennessee, from kind of rural Tennessee… Or, no, she’s from the Oak Ridge area where the big National Lab is. And in the thing she wrote, she’s like, “Yeah, I had a really typical childhood, growing up in the country, catching lightning bugs,” or fireflies, can’t remember which one she called them. “And then taking them to the market to sell to the scientists who worked at the National Lab that they would use the bioluminescence for gene marking.”

Vicky Thompson:                       02:17                Oh my gosh!

Shane Hanlon:                          02:19                Sold. Instantly sold. I was like, “This one, this one. I like this one.” So yeah, that’s the first thing she ever typed me.

Vicky Thompson:                       02:32                Oh my God!

Shane Hanlon:                          02:33                And that’s forever ingrained in my brain. So yes, great memories of…

Vicky Thompson:                       02:38                I love that.

Shane Hanlon:                          02:39                … of fireflies.

Vicky Thompson:                       02:41                Oh my gosh.

Shane Hanlon:                          02:46                Science is fascinating. But don’t just take my word for it. Join us as we hear stories from scientists for everyone. I’m Shane Hanlon.

Vicky Thompson:                       02:56                And I’m Vicky Thompson.

Shane Hanlon:                          02:57                And this is Third Pod from the Sun.

                                                02:58                Okay. So, we’re talking fireflies, or lightning bugs, depending on what you want to call them, not just to reminisce about how my now wife and I met, but to talk science. And to explain this, I’m going to bring in producer Anupama Chandrasekaran. Hi Anupama.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        03:21                Hello, Shane.

Vicky Thompson:                       03:22                So Anupama, what are you going to tell us about today?

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        03:25                I’m going to tell you about these beetles with lanterns that are called fireflies.

Shane Hanlon:                          03:31                Wait, so… Wait, they’re beetles?

Vicky Thompson:                       03:35                Wait, is this a real story, a fictional story?

Shane Hanlon:                          03:43                No, I’m really interested in this, because I grew up with fireflies. So jokes apart, what are we learning about today?

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        03:49                Vicky, I’m kind of flattered that you find my descriptions unbelievable. Yeah, yeah, it is absolutely a misnomer. Fireflies are indeed beetles, and you know something? When they have their annual mating ritual, they actually try to attract each other through these flashes, these flashes of bioluminescence.

Vicky Thompson:                       04:09                That must be quite a sight.

Shane Hanlon:                          04:11                Yeah, like 4th of July fireworks here in the States.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        04:16                Actually Shane, it’s even better than that, because imagine these fireworks, but to the gentle chorus of crickets in a dark forest. And there’s none of that ear-splitting blasts that you would witness with fireworks. And I have seen fireflies in South India too, and really it’s very, very special. In fact, I understand that sometimes these flashes that you see, they’re actually synchronized by males of the same species. And I can just keep going on and on based on what I learned about all this. But I’m going to leave it to University of Colorado’s Orit Peleg, she’s really the best person to do this, and explain to you everything about fireflies because she actually studies firefly communication.

Vicky Thompson:                       05:06                Great. Let’s hear about it.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        05:07                So Orit, I’m very excited, actually, to talk to you, because fireflies are such beautiful creatures, and the way you’re seeing a mix of sciences in it through your studies? I think that’s very fascinating for me. So I’d like to start by just asking you to introduce yourself in a brief way to our listeners so that they know who you are, which is a wide range of things. So if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, and also about your study pertaining to fireflies, just briefly.

Orit Peleg:                                05:56                Yeah, sure. So my name is Orit Peleg, and I’m faculty at CU Boulder, bringing backgrounds that are somewhat diverse in the fields of computer science, and physics, and maths, and I’m using them as tools or lens to look at natural history, and specifically animal communication in nature. And in my lab, we’re really interested in communication in very large groups. That’s where things like signal-to-noise ratios and optimization of the signal become really important. And fireflies are a really wonderful example of that in nature. Their signal is almost digital, on off, zero one, probably as close as it gets to computer language in nature. And we’re trying to understand how they do it.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        06:47                Tell us about these bugs that you study. Tell us about the varieties, geographies, and really, what makes them sparkle? What are fireflies?

Orit Peleg:                                06:56                So fireflies are beetles, and when you look at them in the forest, they really do resemble those little sparks of fire that come out if you’re camping and you have a fireplace, it really looks like that, just like little streaks of light that are moving around. And they communicate with bioluminescence, as you said. So this is cold light they can produce in an organ that they have in their abdomen, it’s called the lantern. And they use this communication specifically in mating context. So the males would produce a particular flash pattern, flash on, off, on, off, and the females would respond back.

                                                07:42                And each species of fireflies, and there’s over 2000 of them, has a unique flash pattern of on and off flashing. And the males have a particular pattern, and the females have a particular pattern, and if you do just a little mental exercise, if you can only see the flashes and you cannot see the firefly when it’s not flashing, if there’s only one firefly, it’s really easy to connect the dots and know what was the pattern that this firefly produced. But as soon as there’s more fireflies, there’s immense visual occlusion. And I don’t know how much I should dive into the details, but one way to solve that visual occlusion, or to help deal with it, is by synchronization of the flashes.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        08:31                What did it feel like when you first started observing them, or your first observation of the fireflies? Because I understand you’d never seen a firefly until… Even when you first heard about this kind of scientific phenomenon.

Orit Peleg:                                08:48                So, I first heard about fireflies and their synchronization actually when I was in undergrad. I took a dynamical systems class, and we used a book that was written by Professor Steven Strogatz, who’s a mathematician from Cornell University, excellent mathematician. And, in parallel, also excellent science communicator. And the chapter we specifically talked about in that class was about synchronization in the context of a little bit more physicsy things, like synchronization of electrons in a superconductor and how that allows for superconductivity. But before everything began, before we really dived into the hard math, one of the examples that Steven Strogatz gave in the introduction of the chapter is other synchronization phenomena in nature, and one of them was the firefly synchronization. And that’s where I first heard about these mating events, where fireflies synchronize their flashes, and really big swarms of thousands of individuals all blink or flash in unison.

                                                09:54                And you’re right to point out that I did not see fireflies in person until I moved to the US, and started to think also about what I want to work on as an independent investigator. So I only saw fireflies for the first time in the US, and in Israel, where I grew up, I never saw any fireflies. So I’m a little bit jealous, I know that fireflies have these really nostalgic, romantic childhood memories for many people. I acquired them much later in my life, but I think I was just as excited to see them for the first time in the US.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        10:29                And tell us a little bit about what synchrony is. What was your study about? And what is its significance?

Orit Peleg:                                10:50                Okay, so I will try. Synchronization, by just a very brief definition, is coupled events that happen at the same time. So if we have two people that are clapping for some reason, and they synchronize their clap, so they clap, produce the sound at the same time, or fireflies that flash at the same time. This order in time, as Steven Strogatz refers to it, is the phenomenon of synchronization. And by the way, it can be decoupled from rhythm, it doesn’t have to be a rhythmic activity, but synchronization can be just a set of random events that happen to overlap for several different entities, or agents, or animals, or even us humans. And so that’s just generally about synchronization.

                                                11:41                And you can imagine that if you have several communication channels that are coming from individuals, and they produce the same signal at the same time, that immediately helps these individuals increase something that we refer to as signal-to-noise ratio. And so how much signal does the broadcasters, could be multiple, produce? And how much noise there is in the background. Of course, for a good communication system, you want to make sure that the signal is much higher than the noise. And that’s where we’re getting into the cocktail party problem, which is actually a classical problem in neuroscience that I think, traditionally, people studied it in the context of human behavior. And the context is a cocktail party where there’s lots of people in the room. As humans, we’re really good in just tuning into the person that we’re conversing with, and kind of tuning out from all the other conversations that are going around. It’s not easy to do, but humans are really good in doing this. Machines are not, and so it’s an ongoing field of research to try to understand how humans really filter out these other conversations.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        12:58                And could you now then just give us a sense of when did you first start researching this? And I understand you would go trekking with your colleagues up Smoky Mountains and actually even have to train your eyes to figure out stuff in the darkness.

Orit Peleg:                                13:19                So we started working on this when I opened up my lab in Colorado a couple of years ago. That problem of synchronization that I heard about when I was an undergrad kind of stayed dormant in my head. And when I was thinking about cool new systems that I can focus on as an independent investigator, that’s one of the first things that popped out. And to study them, I had to recruit somewhat of a diverse team. So I have postdocs that are trained with different backgrounds. One of the main postdocs who is working on this is Raphael Sarfati, he’s trained as a physicist. I also had a student who is trained in evolutionary biology, and she understands field work and everything behind the biology of these fireflies, her name is Julie Hayes. And there’s several new ones that are just joined the lab now.

                                                14:10                And what we usually do is we go together to one of these sites, where we know that there’s a swarm of fireflies. And I can tell you how we know, that’s actually not super trivial. And we bring with us some cameras and some equipment. Sometimes we have to hike in a little bit. And we try to guess, even within that site where we know the fireflies will be around, we try to guess where would be a really good viewpoint for our cameras before it gets dark, and then we set everything up. That’s actually the hard work. And then once the sun sets and the fireflies come out, we also have the luxury of also observing this beautiful phenomenon while we record data.

Vicky Thompson:                       14:59                So her research is pretty interdisciplinary.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        15:02                Right, absolutely. And I was actually quite surprised to hear that, because when you think of fireflies, you actually just think it’s entomology, which is study of insects. But what I learned was that actually there’s a lot of physics and even computer science involved in this research.

Shane Hanlon:                          15:19                I really wonder what it must be like finding these spots in our national parks and spending time in the dead of the night just looking at the spectacle. I’ve spent a lot of time in national parks, and it sounds magical.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        15:35                Yeah, I was really wondering about that too, because when I heard of Orit and the research she does, that was really on my mind. And I did ask her that question.

                                                15:44                What is it like to be there and to observe this? You are a scientist, yes. But you are also an audience.

Orit Peleg:                                15:53                Right. I love being the audience for the show of the fireflies. It is, by far, the most beautiful biological phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed. I highly recommend to anybody who is able to watch it at least once in their lifetime, it should be on the bucket list of everybody. As you pointed out before, the light of the fireflies is very dim. Once you stay inside the forest for a while, our eyes kind of adjust to that dim light. And what it looks like is really just lots of little lights that are moving around in the forest. And when they’re synchronized, then you also, of course, can absorb the synchronization. And it’s sometimes really, really vast. Especially at the Smoky Mountains, with the swarm of photinus carolinus that we’ve worked with.

                                                16:44                This swarm of firefly, we never saw the end of it. It spans miles over miles over miles. With our cameras, we can get just a small field of view; with our eyes, a little bit longer or wider. And there are really some interesting spatial correlations happening in that forest with the fireflies. For some species, there is this wave that propagates when the fireflies start to flash. And so a firefly that is further away from you would start flashing. And then so you see that. And then another firefly that is closer, a second [inaudible 00:17:19] starts, and closer and closer and you see it’s coming to you, and then it passes by. It’s really wonderful. There’s lots of interesting complexities, and it’s such a rich system to admire its beauty, and also ask scientific questions about.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        17:34                So, what is the significance of your research, and what could its application be?

Orit Peleg:                                17:42                There’s really a zoo of mathematical models that explains synchronization. Steven Strogatz is one of the main people who worked on this. And I can dive in more into the mathematics if you want, just let me know. And these mathematical models make really beautiful predictions about what individuals do, what the group does. And on the experiment side, it’s been really hard to study these fireflies, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that until recently, the technology just wasn’t there. People had to go out to the field with photodiode amplifiers to be able to record that really, really dim light of the firefly. So that was one limitation just from the technological side, it was really hard to acquire quantitative data.

                                                18:32                And then in addition, you have to be at the right time at the right place, there is this organization, you have to figure out when the fireflies are going to start their really short span of life as adults that flash. They only stay around for a couple of weeks, each swarm, and then only a couple of hours every night, so it’s very time constrained. So there was not a lot of quantitative data for all of these really good reasons. And nowadays, we can use fairly simple off-the-shelf cameras like GoPros. Sometimes with even the newest model smartphones can catch the really dim light of fireflies. So we don’t really need advanced, fancy technology. And we’re also really lucky that there’s a few spots in the US where fireflies existing in national parks, and the National Park Service really helps us. There’s usually a park entomologist that help us estimate when and where the fireflies will emerge.

                                                19:32                So one of the main contributions, I guess, that me and my lab members made was starting to acquire quantitative data, there’s a lot of method development involved, which we made it really point to make available for everybody. So the software is published online, if anybody want to use it, they’re welcome to. And the cameras, as I mentioned, are fairly simple and accessible.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        19:58                So why is this light flashing happening, and what are the peculiarities of this?

Orit Peleg:                                20:05                Okay, so it’s really a fascinating system. For most of the swarms that we work with, the males are flashing, they’re flying around just above ground, maybe one meter above ground. They’re advertising themselves for mating purposes, and the females are most stationary on the ground. So there’s lots of interesting points about mixing, and how to track fireflies when they’re moving, especially the males. And what’s happening for these kind of swarms, that the males produce a particular flash pattern that is, again, very specific to their own species. And the females observe, and they seem to have preference for very punctual males, males that produce a punctual sequence that is identified with their own species. And then if they see a male that they would want to continue the mating conversation with, then they would respond back with their female, species-specific flash pattern. And then some of the males would land close to the females and they continue this conversation. It switches also to a more chemical communication at that point, there’s pheromone communication, and because they’re close to each other, they can switch to this modality.

                                                21:16                And couple of interesting peculiarities about this system. So as I mentioned, each species has its own signal, and there’s lots of different signals in nature. We’re really interested in how these signals evolved to be distinguishable from each other, because the females have to somehow perceive them and say, “Okay, this guy is from my own species, and great, let’s flash back. And this firefly is not.” There’s also some really interesting mimicry that I don’t work on personally, but that is just mind blowing. So going into this direction of game theory, and deceiving, and mimicry, there’s some species of fireflies in photuris species where the females would mimic the flash pattern of other species’ females, attract their males, for the sole purpose of eating them. And so, of course, they cannot mate. So that’s just another peculiarity that came to mind.

Shane Hanlon:                          22:17                It sounds like it’s a little code that each species uses to communicate, right? That’s wild.

Vicky Thompson:                       22:36                Like a individual little language.

Shane Hanlon:                          22:39                Yeah. I wonder if we flash a light or something with a certain pattern around fireflies that use this pattern, I wonder, would they be attracted to it?

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        22:51                Yeah, that’s really a great question, and I was surprised to hear this, but really, Orit has tried to capture some fireflies, of course with due permission from the national parks. And she’s actually done some of these experiments with captive fireflies.

                                                23:12                You also studied fireflies in captivity, even though I understand it’s one of the most difficult things to do.

Orit Peleg:                                23:20                Yeah. So, it is challenging, because first we have to bring in these big tents with us to the field. I would say this is probably semi-captivity. Ideally, you would also be able to cultivate them maybe in lab conditions, and then work with them just locally in the lab. But this is not possible at the moment for many reasons. And so we still work with them in the field, but we basically catch them with a net. We have a permit for it, you shouldn’t do it if you don’t have a permit. And we bring them into these little tents. These tents are visually isolating these fireflies from the rest of the swarm.

                                                23:57                And the reason this is important is because some of these swarms are huge, we can only capture a really small fraction of the swarm with our cameras. And we care about what the fireflies perceive, and what they see, and how they integrate that information, and make decisions to flash back. So if we have a limited field of view, we never know how many fireflies we have in our system. It could be that there’s a bunch of other fireflies just outside our field of view that are affecting the system significantly. And when we catch individual fireflies, or small groups of fireflies, and bring them into this tent, then we know exactly how many fireflies we have, we know their sex, we know their species. So it’s slightly more controlled environment where we can start asking questions about how individuals make decisions.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        24:44                You’ve also connected it to protolanguage, right? A very basic language.

Orit Peleg:                                24:49                Yeah, so I’m really interested in that question of how these signals evolved, how the flash patterns evolved, and the connection to protolanguages is actually coming from previous work that David Krakauer from the Santa Fe Institute did on language evolution. And the idea is that almost any biological entity needs to communicate somehow with its environment or with other individuals, whether that’s our cells, our organs, our self as humans, and then maybe groups of humans. And all of these systems evolved their temporal signals in which they communicate. So how did that happen? Is there any interesting universalities across systems?

                                                25:31                And again, this is where fireflies shine, no pun intended, because they’re seemingly so simple, it’s really just a temporal on off, to some extent, almost like a Morse code. And we know with Morse codes that the way they were designed, at least some of them were to minimize the length of the message. So the letters that are the most common in the alphabet were also associated with the shortest Morse code.

                                                25:58                And so what are these evolutionary constraints for the fireflies? We know that there’s a few main aspects, like turning on the light costs some energy, so maybe they’re minimizing the amount of time that the lantern is on. It also exposes them to predation, so that’s another aspect. But then these signals have to be distinguishable. They have to be able to see or perceive a particular pattern and say, “This is species A,” or, “This is my species and this is not my species.” So we’re using the fireflies as a model system basically for communication signal evolution, and these very basic languages, which I’m doing air quotes to illustrate that it’s a very, very, basic type of language.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        26:45                So while one sees there’s a lot of simplicity, there’s a lot of complexity also involved in this kind of basic minimal.

Orit Peleg:                                26:55                Yeah, exactly. And that’s actually where our tent experiments, we can extend them a little bit. And introducing to the tent some artificial light, some LEDs, which the fireflies respond to, and we can actually program these LEDs to produce a very particular pattern, this is just completely determined by us, and we can see how these fireflies respond if it’s their own species and they’re synchronized how they synchronize. And that seems to be a very good platform to answer some of the questions that you just brought up.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        27:37                What are the challenges that are presented before you as you continue studying these insects? Particularly when we are talking about an increasingly lit up dark, increasingly lit up night skies?

Orit Peleg:                                27:54                Yeah, so that’s a really big issue. It’s one of the main stressors that fireflies experience from the environment. Light pollution significantly lowers the signal-to-noise ratio. If we think about the brightness of the signal; so if firefly flash is very, very dim, and there is some light pollution around, then the contrast between the flash and the background is going to be different, it’s going to be maybe lower in areas that are light polluted. And that has been shown to actually have a significant effect on the mating success of these fireflies.

                                                28:29                So the field of firefly conservation didn’t really exist until a couple of years ago. And in the last five years or so, more and more reports are coming about the condition of the fireflies and how environmental stressors are limiting their ability to reproduce, limiting their populations. By the way, also other factors like climate change and habitat destruction. And some of these fireflies are at real risk, and they’ve been Red Listed by these organizations. So this is one of the challenges, what if some of the populations we work with are not going to be around in the next couple of years? It’s really sad and terrifying, not just because of the science, but because these fireflies are just so magnificent and beautiful, and they should have what they need in order to survive on our planet, like all other living systems.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        29:29                I understand you guys are still finding newer and newer species of fireflies as you are going out in the field. That was quite something, that means there’s so much that hasn’t been discovered about these beetles.

Orit Peleg:                                29:45                Yeah, it’s partially because of the light pollution aspect, and fireflies, when they have the option, they seem to prefer darker places, so they’re a little bit hidden. They’re off the beaten path, in a sense. And it really takes somebody that happened to be at a place where there’s fireflies to know that they’re going to be there. It’s something that is really hard to just observe them from far away. And so we actually are starting now a crowdsourcing project where, because recording method is fairly simple, we’re sending people kits with two cameras and hard drive, and all of this community knowledge becomes really helpful in discovering new populations, potentially new species, new behaviors. And so, this is something that the lab is going towards, and I’m really excited about.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        30:38                Any unforgettable incident that you want to share with our listeners? Something that really has stayed in your mind? Anything funny that has happened through the course of your research, or findings, or treks?

Orit Peleg:                                30:54                One night comes to mind from, actually, the last experimental season. We worked at Congaree National Park in South Carolina, there’s a different species of fireflies there that we usually work with. And we have a particular site, it’s the third year that we’re coming back to the same site. And the park ranger that is helping us set up and find the fireflies, she’s told us that there’s another swarm, another location where there’s more fireflies, and it’s kind of nice. “Maybe you should check it out.” And she was really underselling it, as it turns out. One night there was a thunderstorm, so we couldn’t walk in our regular spot. And just on the way home, the rain stopped and we said, “Okay, why don’t we go check out this new spot that the park ranger told us about?” And it was magical.

                                                31:43                So it was the highest density of synchronous fireflies that I’ve ever seen. That’s how it started, we were going through the forest just exploring. We ended up at this body of water that was fairly open, and I saw, for the first time, coexistence of two species. There were synchronous fireflies that were closer to the water and underground, and then at the top of the trees, a totally different firefly species that were flashing in a different sequence. And it was magnificent. Me and my mentees, we hung out there, just a few hours, watching that spectacular location. There were also other vocal sounds that seemed to be synchronized, some frogs and some crickets, and it was just… I don’t know, we all just wanted to absorb it in as much as possible.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        32:33                Light and sound show, right? I’m sure there were crickets as well.

Orit Peleg:                                32:36                Yes.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        32:37                Yeah?

Orit Peleg:                                32:38                Yes.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        32:41                Anything else you want to add? I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, but anything else you want to add about?

Orit Peleg:                                32:46                Yeah, so just want to say in terms of maybe the connection to geography, we’re really interested in the distribution of different species of fireflies, which is also part of the crowdsourcing data can help us assess. And it can help firefly conservation, but it can also help us better understand how overlapping species, like the ones we saw in that spectacular night, since they really coexist at the same spot, how did a signal evolve to be distinguishable from each other? So hopefully with more data we can tackle some of these problems.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        33:22                Yeah, it’ll hopefully shed light on some of these problems, yeah? Should we say that?

Orit Peleg:                                33:27                Yes, yes, yes. Please do, please.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        33:28                I’m sure you get used to a lot of bad puns with the fireflies, right? “Set it on fire” and so on and so forth, yeah?

Orit Peleg:                                33:36                There’s no bad puns when it comes to fireflies.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        33:42                Great, great.

Shane Hanlon:                          33:54                I have to agree with Orit; fireflies are so cool.

Vicky Thompson:                       33:59                So cool. Bioluminescent cool.

Shane Hanlon:                          34:04                Oh goodness. I really do hope that the crowdsourcing project as well reveals some, I’m sure it will, but really exciting new things.

Vicky Thompson:                       34:11                Yeah, it’s going to be a lot of data, really wide breadth of data.

Shane Hanlon:                          34:16                Yeah, and I know that this camera technology is making things easier to collect data on insects like fireflies.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        34:22                Yeah, camera technology was very, very expensive, insanely expensive before, and the costs of that have really come down. And I think that’s what makes this kind of crowdsourcing really possible and feasible, really.

Vicky Thompson:                       34:38                Yeah. So here’s to finding new species of fireflies.

Shane Hanlon:                          34:42                And their flashy codes. All right folks. Well, that is all from Third Pod from the Sun.

Vicky Thompson:                       34:50                Thanks so much to Anupama for bringing us this story, and to Orit for sharing her work with us.

Shane Hanlon:                          34:54                This episode was produced by Anupama, with audio engineering from Collin Warren. Art by Jace Steiner.

Vicky Thompson:                       35:00                We’d love to hear your thoughts on the podcast. Please rate and review us, and you can find new episodes on your favorite podcasting app, or at thirdpodfromthesun.com.

Shane Hanlon:                          35:09                Thanks all, and we’ll see you next week.

Vicky Thompson:                       35:18                Is that from your wedding?

Shane Hanlon:                          35:20                It’s from the wedding, yeah. So Anupama, I got married a few weeks ago.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        35:24                A few weeks ago?

Shane Hanlon:                          35:26                Yeah. Yeah, pretty recently.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        35:27                Oh my God, congratulations!

Shane Hanlon:                          35:29                Thank you.

Vicky Thompson:                       35:30                He’s so sly, right?

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        35:31                I know, right? That’s why you went silent, and James was taking it on, right? Hey, that’s [inaudible 00:35:39].

Shane Hanlon:                          35:38                There’s been a lot going on.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        35:38                Lovely.

Shane Hanlon:                          35:42                But we had actually a few of these cardboard cutouts of our dog, because we love our dog, but he’s a menace.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        35:50                He was barking on one of our recordings, right? Was it your dog or was it Vicky’s dog?

Shane Hanlon:                          35:54                Yeah. So yeah, you’ve heard my dog, you’ve heard Vicky’s dog. I actually printed out one of him sitting, he looks very regal. So I took one, and unbeknownst to me, our friend printed out this one to bring to the wedding. And also there’s a head of him somewhere around here that’s just his head.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        36:11                So cute.

Shane Hanlon:                          36:13                So we had three cardboard cutouts of my dog at our wedding at various places throughout.

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        36:19                You must have felt slightly sad, no, that you didn’t have him. Although you were glad you didn’t, but there’s this little bit of a regret, you know that, “Yeah, he’s horrible, but…”

Shane Hanlon:                          36:27                Yeah, I mean…

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        36:27                [inaudible 00:36:29].

Vicky Thompson:                       36:28                It’s like your kid, yeah.

Shane Hanlon:                          36:33                It would’ve been fun…

Anupama Chandrasekaran:        36:33                [inaudible 00:36:34].

Shane Hanlon:                          36:34                … but he just would’ve been a menace. Anyways, so now we have these cardboard cutouts and one lives here now.

Vicky Thompson:                       36:38                I still have one more question.

Shane Hanlon:                          36:38                Yeah?

Vicky Thompson:                       36:40                Yeah. So does he recognize that that’s him?

Shane Hanlon:                          36:44                No.


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