Brilliant swarm
Aug 18, 2022

The Brilliant Swarm with Dr. Orit Peleg (podcast)

A physicist by training researches how biological communication signals are generated and interpreted. In this conversation, she shares what it’s like to do fieldwork with fireflies.

By Templeton Staff

This episode of the TWCF-supported podcast Many Minds features Dr. Orit Peleg speaking about her studies of synchronous fireflies.

Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

"Right now, as I’m recording this, there’s an astonishing spectacle unfolding in the forests of Tennessee. Every June, vast swarms of Photinus carolinus fireflies light up the night there. The members of this particular species don’t just blink erratically and independently. They sync up; they flash in a dazzling unison, creating waves of light that seem to propagate through the forest. But how do they do it? How do these tiny creatures pull off such a brilliant display?

My guest today is Dr. Orit Peleg. She’s an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and the BioFrontiers Institute, at the University of Colorado – Boulder. Though a physicist by training, Orit and her lab focus on the dynamics of living systems, and they have recently taken up the puzzle of firefly synchrony.

Here, we talk about what it’s like to do fieldwork on fireflies. We discuss the colorful history of research in this area and how the phenomenon of firefly synchrony was originally contested and explained away. We talk about what Orit and her team have learned about the mechanisms of this synchrony — and about their methods, which include rich in-the-wild recordings, experiments involving tents and LEDs, and a fair bit of modeling and math. We also touch on the firing of neurons, the pulsing of heart cells, the clapping of hands, and other examples of synchronization in the natural world."

Play the full episode with the above player.

Learn more about Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences priority.

Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from assistant producer Cecilia Padilla. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork is by Ben Oldroyd.