Monday, June 3, 2013

Can Fireflies explain the Brown Mountain Lights?

Can fireflies explain the BMLs?

Of course not, at least not the majority of the reported light sightings.  But now that I have your attention, I'd like to introduce you to the Blue Ghost Firefly (BGF)----Phausis reticulata, which I suspect has fooled some people in the past. 

Blue Ghost Fireflies (Phausis reticulata)
DuPont State Forest, Transylvania Co., NC
This 62-second time exposure of the rare and little-known BGF shows a hatch of males flying between trees and brush in search of females which don't fly, but instead live on the forest floor.  Unlike the quick blinking of the common yellow firefly, the male BGF stays lighted for several seconds to several minutes while flying about 2 feet off the ground for horizontal distances up to 100 feet or more.  To the human eye, the BGFs burn with a pale bluish white light---however, the camera records a pale lime green color which appears to be the true color.
 Canon EOS REBEL T3i DSLR camera, f/2.5, 62 second exposure, ISO 6400, 50 mm lens
When seen for the first time by an uninformed or unsespecting person, the BGFs certainly can be mysterious and eerie.  Especially when encountered on a dark night in unfamiliar woods, the BGFs can be misintrepreted as sightings of distant bright lights rather than close encounters with a pale-light bioluminescent flying beetle. 
Phausis reticulata (Blue Ghost Firefly)
male on left, female on right
The most definitive research on the BGF is presented by Jennifer Frick-Ruppert & Joshua Rosen (2008) and can be found online at:
In the published literature of the Brown Mountain Lights, several light encounters may be consistant with the BGF.  Specifically, the 1916 account of H.C. Martin and Dr. L.H. Coffey (Pearson, 1916), the 1962 account of P. Rose (Charlotte Observer & Winston-Salem Journal, August 3, 1962), and the 1962 alien-abduction account of R. Lael (Lael, 1965).
While the BGFs don't explain the vast majority of BML distant light sightings (afterall, the BGFs can't be seen more than about 100 feet away), they may explain a small portion of some close-encounters with mystery lights.

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