Flight of the Fireflies

Thousands of these fairy-like creatures light up the night in the small
village of Kampung Kuantan.

by Michele C. Hollow

As the small wooden sampan gently glides down the river on this moonless night, I look to the distance and see a flicker of light. As we get closer, the lights grow brighter. It looks as if someone strung a handful of tiny white Christmas tree lights on the trees along the

Flickering on and off, as we draw nearer, I can make out the trees that line both sides of the river. The guide assures me that these tiny white lights aren't Christmas tree lights. These are the famous fireflies of Kampung Kuantan, which is about a ninety-minute drive northwest of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Deeper along the route, the trees are illuminated by thousands of
fireflies. What draws them here, no one knows for sure. Perhaps it is
the presence of the mangrove trees (Sonneratia caseolaris). Our guide
tells us that the fireflies like to feast on the young leaves of the
mangrove trees. While mangrove trees grow in other parts of the world,
they don't attract large numbers of fireflies. It is here in Kampung
Kuantan that one can see such a brilliant display.

Kampung Kuantan is one of the few places in the world where thousands of these shining stars cluster together. Kampung, the Malaysian word for village, is a small village surrounded by coconut and palm oil

Here, along the river away from the plantations, the fireflies illuminate
the trees for about a quarter of a mile. Up above, the stars add to the
magic of this natural light show.

Fireflies twinkle every three seconds to attract mates. The lights,
which the male fireflies produce, are brighter than those of the female
species. When the males find a mate, they begin to blink in unison. This
is called synchronicity.

The fireflies are not attracted to flashlights or flashbulbs on cameras.
Oddly enough, our guide attracted two fireflies when he inhaled on his
cigarette. He caught one and placed it in my hand. Fireflies are really
little beetles. They are around six millimeters in length. I held it for just a few seconds. Carefully protected by strict Malaysian laws, people are
fined for harming fireflies. The firefly in my hand flew back to his

The mangrove tree is a type of oak tree that grows abundantly on these
riverbanks. These trees thrive in a humid climate and swampy
surroundings. The fireflies survive by sucking out the nectar produced
by these trees.

The fireflies only come out at night. During the day, they retreat to
nearby grassy areas. They will not illuminate in the daytime, even if
they are put in a dark place. At sunset, they return to the mangrove
trees to feed and display. Their “lighting-up” time occurs after dusk
(about 8 p.m.) and continues until midnight.

The best conditions to view the fireflies are on moonless nights. This
way there is no competition from a bright full moon. The best way to see
the fireflies is on a sampan. Sampan rides are propelled by human
strength, avoiding smoke and noise pollution. It is a peaceful, quiet
and romantic ride.

—Michele C. Hollow is a freelance writer living in New Jersey.


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