Fireflies of Kuala Selangor

by Doreen Cheong, Oct 30, 2001 | Destinations: Malaysia / Selangor

My family of four and our American friends left for the Kuala Selangor Fireflies Sanctuary at around 5pm, taking the road from Sungai Buloh. After passing a mini-gold course and several oil palm plantations, we arrived at Kampung Kuantan. Here, there is a huge sign proclaiming the Kampung Kuantan Fireflies Sanctuary.

We had a quick dinner in Kampung Kuantan before proceeding to the Kuala Selangor River. (This place is famous for fresh seafood. Food prices have gone up due to increasing arrivals of tourists, but is still pretty reasonable for the time being - a la carte seafood dinner is about US40 for four person.)

It is one of two places in the world - the other being along the Amazon River in Brazil - where millions of fireflies can be seen to flash their "lights". The location along the Selangor River in Kampung Kuantan is special because it is easily accessible whereas the one along the Amazon is not.

The fireflies congregate on trees, which is reachable by a short sampan (traditional boat) ride. According to locals, the best time to see the fireflies is during the new moon, about one to four hours after sunset.

You'll be wise to wear non-slip shoes and put on adequate mosquito repellent for an enjoyable experience. The tiny mosquitoes, although harmless, can be rather irritating. Torches and camera flashes are forbidden because that would disturb the fireflies.

After hopping onto a specially chartered boat (US15 for a maximum of six person), we were told to sit quietly and enjoy the soothing sounds from the jungle. My two children look around us, fascinated by "strange" animal and insect sounds, so unlike the sounds in the city.

Ten minutes downriver, fireflies begin to appear, twinkling like Christmas lights. From our distance, it looks as though gold dust is being sprinkled on the trees. Up close, the individual flashing of light can be observed, as the male fireflies via each other for the attention of female fireflies.

According to our boatman, a local called Man, some tourists do not believe that nature has endowed the fireflies the ability to blink so beautifully. "Some even accuse us of stringing lights in the branches," he commented with a wry grin.

At low tide, the fireflies are more spread out and during high tide, they gather. This is because if they fall into the river, the flies will die. For the same reason, the glowing stops when it rains heavily.

Fireflies only choose to congregate on trees with open foliage like the berembang, which grows in abundance along the Kuala Selangor River. Male fireflies flash at a higher frequency and intensity compared to the females. Females use their lights to seek sites for egg laying.

All male fireflies seem to have an inbuilt antenna - flashing in synchrony. The Kuala Selangor Nature Sanctuary is one of the largest remaining fireflies area in the world. Around the region, the number of fireflies has dwindled significantly, due to use of biocides and insecticides.

The Kuala Selangor Nature Sanctuary is a wetlands protected area, and efforts by environmental groups to maintain the fireflies' population have been quite successful.

Visitors to this sanctuary include guests from Turkey, Austria, United States and Egypt. With little organized worldwide publicity - a deliberate ploy to prevent the place from being overtrumped with tourists, visitors have been drawn to the area mainly through word-of-mouth.

Adventure lovers can also choose to stay at the chalets in the Kuala Selangor Nature Sanctuary, a famous wetland sanctuary and exotic bird watching paradise. The harsh swampland has since been transformed into a visitor friendly area. It consists of secondary forests and mangroves, with different trails for amateurs and experienced trekkers.

As the trails are managed by the Malaysian Nature Society, the trails are suitable even for leisure strolls. Along the six main nature trails, all named after animals and birds, plants and trees have been labeled with their scientific names and common names. As we wanted a short, but scenic walk, we chose the Egret's Tail, which stretches for about 520metres. The other trails are the Eagle's Trail (988m), Langur's Trail (1100m), Macaque's Trail (436m), Ring Bund (1345m) and Coastal Bund (1673m). A short boardwalk, allowing visitors to walk over the swamps without getting yucky, has been built.

Mangroves cover about 95 hectares of the park and are the most important element in the park's ecosystem. Mangrove fauna such as crabs, mollusks, mudskippers, horseshoe crabs and fish can be seen here. Other animals, which are drawn to the mangrove forest, are birds, monkeys, otters and snakes.

One of the main focuses of the Kuala Selangor Nature Park is a lake that covers over five hectares. This is designed to be a roosting site for migratory birds. Sand and gravel are constructed in the middle of the lake for roosting purposes, and the lake is filled seawater to sustain aquatic life as a source of food for the birds.

Overnight travelers can choose to stay a night at the observation hides and tower to observe the nocturnal animals.

During the migratory season (September to April each year), birds like egrets, greenshanks and pond herons are not an uncommon sight.