Synchrony with chaos – blinking lights of a firefly swarm embody in nature what mathematics predicted

Imagine an old-growth forest in the fading light of a summer evening. As the last of the sun’s rays disappear beneath the horizon, a tiny flash catches your eye.

You turn around, hold your breath; it blinks again, hovering 2 feet above the leaf litter. Across the dusky glade, a fleeting response. Then another one, and another, and within minutes flickering fireflies spread all over the quiet woods.

At first they seem disorganized. But soon a few coordinated pairs appear, little tandems flashing on the same tempo twice a second. Pairs coalesce into triads, quintuplets, and suddenly the entire forest is pulsating with a common, glittering beat. The swarm has reached synchrony.