Insights

# Fireflies: A Real World Math Challenge

Fireflies may light up the night sky, but new research reveals they’re also lighting a fire under mathematicians!  The most recent discovery challenges our understanding of how these creatures synchronize their flashes, and even helps scientists develop tools to protect them.

## Lighting the Way in More Than One Way

The dazzling displays of synchronizing fireflies have captivated us for centuries. But recently, science has gone beyond the “oohs” and “ahhs” to uncover the fascinating secrets behind their coordinated light shows. And guess what plays a surprisingly important role in these discoveries? Basic math concepts we all learned in school!

Counting fireflies, analyzing the number of flashes, and measuring the time intervals between them – these skills were crucial for scientists to challenge long-held theories.

In the past, science books used fireflies as an example of simple flashing patterns, like everyone blinking at once. But new discoveries show a much cooler, messier reality that surprised scientists!

## Cameras Show How Fireflies Really Flash

Scientists used high-tech cameras to see how fireflies really act in nature. These cameras showed that fireflies don’t have built-in timers, and their flashing comes from how they interact with each other. Imagine playing flashlights with friends – you don’t all start together, but eventually your flashes line up. That’s kind of like fireflies!

The research even found some fireflies that don’t play along! It’s like having a friend in the flashlight game who keeps going off on their own. These unexpected behaviors made scientists rethink their old ideas about fireflies. Now, they’re creating new models to explain this messy flashing.

Patterns of multiple fireflies over a period of time

## Firefly Counting Leads to Big Discoveries

By studying fireflies, we learn that science can be surprising and messy, but also super rewarding! And guess what helps scientists make these discoveries? The same counting and measuring skills you learn in school! Imagine being a super detective who uses math to unlock the secrets of living things! That’s kind of what mathematical biology (a long way of saying “math for biology”) is all about.

Instead of stethoscopes and microscopes, these detectives use math (in the form of equations and computer programs) to understand how plants and animals work. Similar to learning how fireflies flash their lights in patterns, they can figure out so much about the natural world such as how fast a bird’s heart beats, or even how many scales a fish has. It’s like having a secret code for the amazing world of nature!

These math skills helped reveal that fireflies don’t have an internal clock as some models predicted. Instead, their synchrony emerges from how many fireflies are present and how often they flash in response to each other. It’s like figuring out a rhythm game – the more players there are, and the more they coordinate their actions (flashes in this case!), the clearer the overall pattern becomes.

Learning about fireflies isn’t just fun, it helps us understand other things in nature too, like flocks of birds or schools of fish! Scientists are even using the fireflies’ unique flashes to develop tools to identify different types. This is important because some firefly populations are in danger. Check out the full article here

So next time you see fireflies twinkling in the night sky, remember the amazing science behind it! It all starts with the basic math skills you’re learning in school – counting those flashes and measuring the time between them are like tiny detective tools that help us unlock nature’s secrets.

Keep practicing your math this summer, and who knows, maybe you’ll be the next scientist to discover something incredible about fireflies (or anything else in the amazing world around you)! To get you started, check out the following free, fun game we’ve got for you, and for more ideas on introducing math concepts and keeping your kids engaged, visit our YouTube channel Origo One!

# Firefly Flash Frenzy: A Math & Science Challenge!

Get ready to explore the world of fireflies and put your math skills to the test!

## Materials:

• Flashlight (optional)
• Paper and pencil
• Timer (phone stopwatch works too!)

## The Challenge:

Imagine you’re a firefly researcher studying a new species. You’ve observed them flashing their lights in a unique pattern, but you need some data to understand it better.

### Part 1: The Flash Count

1. Gather your fireflies! (Have a friend or family member act as a firefly by turning the flashlight on and off in a random pattern).
2. Set the timer for 30 seconds. Pretend this is how long you’ll observe the fireflies.
3. Start the timer and count the number of flashes your “firefly” makes in those 30 seconds.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 two more times. Write down your results for each round.

### Part 2: The Interval Challenge

1. Pick one of your rounds from Part 1. This will be the data set you analyze.
2. Look at the number of flashes you counted.
3. Divide the total time (30 seconds) by the number of flashes (e.g., 30 seconds / 12 flashes = 2.5 seconds). This gives you the average time between flashes.

## Think Like a Scientist

1. What patterns did you notice in your flash counts across the different rounds?
2. Were the flashes evenly spaced or did they seem random?
3. Based on your average time between flashes, could you predict when the next flash might occur? (Try starting the timer again and see if your prediction is close!)

### Bonus Challenge:

• If you have multiple players, everyone can be a “firefly” flashing in their own pattern.
• Take turns observing each other and record your flash counts and intervals.
• Discuss the differences and see if there are any connections between the number of fireflies and the overall flash pattern.

### Remember!

Fireflies in real life don’t always flash perfectly in sync. Their patterns can be messy and unpredictable, just like in scientific research! This game lets you explore those variations and see how basic math skills can help us understand the amazing world of fireflies.

Want to know more?

## ORIGO Education

ORIGO Education has partnered with educators for over 25 years to make math learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all.