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Home » The Luminous Mystery of Fireflies: Wan Faridah Akmal Jusoh (Transcript)

The Luminous Mystery of Fireflies: Wan Faridah Akmal Jusoh (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of firefly scientist Wan Faridah Akmal Jusoh’s talk titled “The Luminous Mystery of Fireflies” at TED 2024 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


My Childhood in Terengganu

I was born in Terengganu, a beautiful coastal state in Peninsular Malaysia. Growing up in a superstitious, conservative community, my siblings and I always had to follow the strangest rules that usually didn’t make sense to me. Things like: don’t whistle in the house, no nail clipping at night. And whenever we went out to play, we had to return home before sunset or before it got dark.

This particular rule made the night seem mysterious to me. I spent my school year admiring the dark, but never got around to really exploring it. As I got older, I was really drawn to beautiful nature. While in mangrove forests, a forestry officer told me about kelip-kelip.

Discovering Fireflies

A group of insects that can produce light that are easiest to see at night. Given my limited experience with darkness — I decided to take a boat ride across the mangrove estuary one night just to see what they look like. Well, the first 15 minutes of the journey was frightening. It was pitch-black out there, and the river was choppy.

All I could hear was a faint breeze. As the river began to narrow, it was then that I noticed a mesmerizing sight. Countless tiny flashes of light started to flicker on the trees, all flashing in almost perfect unison. It was as if they were dancing to their own beat.

Falling in Love with Fireflies

That is the moment I will never forget. The moment I officially fell in love with kelip-kelip, known as fireflies in English. The rest is history. Now, I have been researching fireflies for more than 17 years, and I plan to spend my life uncovering and supporting the worlds of these creatures.

There are more than 2,000 firefly species that we know of, and they live all over the world. They are found in every continent except for Antarctica. Most of them have wings, and most species can emit light.

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