National Geographic : 1971 Jul
Nature's Night Lights PROBING THE SECRETS OF BIOLUMINESCENCE By PAUL A. ZAHL, Ph.D. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SENIOR SCIENTIST 66 HE FIREFLY TREE?" Ahmad bin Khamis's face crinkled into a proud grin. "It is closer than you think-just there, across the creek. Nothing special, sir, nothing special... that is, not until nightfall, when the kelip-kelip start their happy time." I am an inveterate firefly-watcher. My preoccupation with bioluminescence, not only in fireflies but also in hundreds of other organisms-including fishes, squids, and mushrooms-has led me around the world. This time my quest had brought me to the State of Johore in Malaysia and the jungle home of the thatchmaker Ahmad. On his property stood a remarkable tree, one that harbored swarms of a firefly different from any I had ever seen. Ahmad knew that intriguing insect as the kelip-kelip; to scientists it is the synchronously flashing firefly Pteroptyx. "Do the kelip-kelip come and go with the seasons?" I asked, as Ahmad drew me to a window. "Not a bit," he replied. "They are with me every night Turning on with a mighty flash, a Malaysian firefly signals from its perch on a mangrove leaf. Amazing Pteroptyx malaccae and a constellation of other night lighters illuminate the author's memorable adventures in the strange world of bioluminescence. EKTACHROME BYIVANPOLUNIN© N.G.S.