In this tour, tourists are prohibited from using cell phones because any light interference affects the mating dance of the fireflies.
Known as Mexico’s firefly sanctuary, the Santa Clara Forest in the state of Tlaxcala attracts nature lovers because it is the scene of a unique and little-known spectacle: the mating ritual of the species.
Before the forest is silent and the fireflies invade the darkness with the brightness of their lights, a heavy rain must moisten the soil and wet the branches of the trees.
Visitors should also prepare. Hand in hand, they were a circle and follow the ritual with verses that ask the guardians of the forest access to their domains.
“We ask you, Mother Nature, to allow us to enter your forest. We come with full awareness of caring for and respecting the flora, fauna and all living being found within you. To the guardians of the forest, to take care of us and protect us during the journey, “say those present.
Along the route created by the National Forest Commission (Conafor), one of the guides of the sanctuary, Luis Ramón Galindo, tells the Efe Agency that asking for authorization of the forest is a tradition.
After the ritual, the footsteps of visitors echo through the forest paths. They walk in a line of two and are banned from using cell phones. Any light interference affects the mating dance. Fireflies use their own light to communicate.
It is 20 minutes from the arrival to the place until the males of the species – Macrolampis Palacios – begin to descend the mountain slowly, with hundreds of timid sparks in the cold air.
“What they are doing is emitting different glares to catch the attention of females. Then they mate and continue with the process of reproduction, “explains Galindo.
Females also shine, but they do it in a more intense and lasting way. Besides, it does not fly. They wait to pick the males in the leaves. For every hundred of them there is one.
“Once the male is chosen, the female releases an aromatic substance, the pheromone. The male notes with its antennae and this is the signal that she accepts to mate, “says the guide.
After mating, the females even deposit between 100 and 150 eggs.
Professor Tania Guadalupe López, who is carrying out a research project on fireflies at the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told that there is little information on the situation of the species.
Therefore, in partnership with the researcher Carlos Cordero, she works in the field to better understand the behavior and population size of fireflies.
The two identified two major threats to the species: pesticides used in plantations near the forest and urban sprawl that, with “light pollution”, can confuse fireflies and obstruct communication between males and females.
“Pesticides kill a range of organisms to prevent the plant, which is of interest, either sick or impaired, but by killing them, they also kill others that are important to fireflies, such as snails and slugs,” explains López.
In the sanctuary of Santa Clara, when the fireflies ritual ends, it is the moon’s turn to light the forest. On returning to the entrance to the woods, visitors again shake hands and recite farewell words, following the local tradition.
“We thank you, Mother Nature, for allowing us to enter your forest. And the guardians of the forest, who also protected us during the course. “