In many parts of the world, a warm summer evening sets the stage for a familiar sight: the lightning bug. Through a phenomenon called bioluminescence, these winged beetles generate chemical reactions in a part of their abdomen known as the lantern to produce flickers of light. Of more than 2,000 species found throughout the world, only a handful coordinate their flashes into patterns and are known as synchronous fireflies. Filmmaker Sriram Murali captured a rare gathering of billions of these insects at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in western Tamil Nadu, India.
Through a combination of moving image and time-lapse photography, Murali recorded countless specimens amidst the trees as they produce glowing pulses, which relay across the forest in expansive, wave-like signals. The color, brightness, and length of the light emitted is specific to each species, and as a part of the insects’ mating display, it helps males and females to recognize one another. Darkness is a necessary ingredient in the success of this ritual.