-- fonoflies --

let's hear fireflies

fonoflies is an acoustic experiment to translate firefly light patterns into melodies.

Firefly flashes are dots in space and time which can be mapped into notes of a certain pitch and amplitude. The natural light spectacle then becomes a new sensory experience.

fonoflies is for everyone, but designed more specifically with people who can't see fireflies in mind. It is intended to be both scientific and aesthetic.

Contributions are encouraged! Check the project's repository for data and code, or contact me.

Temporality: the beat of the lightning bugs

from chaos to synchrony

When flashing together, fireflies interact to create various collective light patterns. Some are disorganized while others tend towards synchrony.

To characterize these patterns, we can look at the number of flashes over time. It produces a curve undulating with more or less regularity.

This visual trace can be translated into sound by playing a constant note and modulating its loudness with the amplitude of the curve. For species that synchronize, the tune becomes a regular beat — the signature of the swarm.

asynchrony / Photuris sp.

snap synchrony / Photuris frontalis

breath synchrony

burst synchrony / Photinus carolinus

Spatiality: the swing of the swarm

Flashes occur at specific times and locations. Using modern video techniques, we can access these space-time coordinates, and turn this information into melodies.

Listen to this swarm of Photinus carolinus in the Great Smoky Mountains:

In this example, each firefly is represented by a random note, which starts and lasts with the corresponding flash. The distance of the firefly sets the relative amplitude, and the angular position sets the audio panning.

Let's listen to different species. Can you hear differences?

··· Photinus obscurellus

··· Photinus marginellus

··· Pyractomena angulata

··· unknown

··· Photuris frontalis


All melodies are based on actual firefly data. The timing and location of flashes were extracted from stereoscopic video recordings in the natural habitat. Flash coordinates were translated into melodies using Sonic Pi.


My name is Raphaël Sarfati. I am a scientist and explorer who's chased, filmed, and studied fireflies for many years and across the United States. See my other websites, lucidluminescence.org and blinkorsync.app, or get in touch: raphael.sarfati@aya.yale.edu.