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Flight of the Fireflies

By Michele C. Hollow for Pet News and Views

Fire flies are attracted to the mangrove trees in Kampung Kuantan.

Fire flies are attracted to the mangrove trees in Kampung Kuantan.

It’s been a number of years since I visited Kampung Kuantan, a small island near Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. One of the highlights of my trip was a boat ride to see thousands of fire flies at night. Their flickering glow made me feel like I was surrounded by hundreds of festively decorated Christmas trees covered in tiny white lights. Fortunately, for me it was a moonless night, which meant the lights from the fire flies was even brighter.

As our small wooden sampan gently glided down the river, the tour guide assured me that these tiny white lights are the famous fireflies of Kampung Kuantan, which is about a ninety-minute drive northwest of Kuala Lumpur.

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. 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 like they do here in Kampung Kuantan.

Kampung, the Malaysian word for village, is a small town surrounded by coconut and palm oil plantations. 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.

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-mm 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 tree.

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 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 ride.

Tours can be booked from most hotels in Kuala Lumpur.

And on another note, please read my post on The Top 5 Tips on How to Speak Dog at Parade magazine.


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