Night of the deadly lights

Ary Bassous's Image

On still, humid nights, the old termite mounds on the savannah of Emas National Park, central Brazil, sparkle with eerie green lights.

These are the bioluminescent lures of click beetle larvae living in the outer layers of the mounds. When conditions are right, they poke out of their tunnels. Shining their ‘headlights’, they wait for prey – usually flying termites that emerge on humid evenings to mate and look for new places to colonise. Ary lit this mound with a flashlight and kept the shutter open for 30 seconds to blur the insects’ flashes. This resulted in small pools of intense colour if the larvae remained still, or starbursts if they wriggled. Some adult beetles were flying, painting their flight paths against the starry sky. The orange glow of two towns and streaks of lightning were visible in the distance. To catch the peak of the phenomenon, which occurs after the first wet season rains and lasts for only a couple of weeks, Ary would stay in the park overnight. Despite occasional ‘bouts of crippling fear’ at the thought of jaguars and other dangerous animals that might be out after dark, he says the experience and resulting pictures were worth it. He achieved a shot he had been trying to capture for nearly a decade.

Behind the lens

Ary Bassous

Ary Bassous


Ary took up photography as teenager in the 1970s, mainly taking pictures of surfing. After graduating with a medical degree in 1985, he specialised in surgery and become involved in scientific photography. Alongside medicine, he developed a career as a photographer, embracing many different genres. For the past decade his focus has been wildlife and landscape photography.

Image details

  • Nikon D800
  • 16–35mm f4 lens at 16mm
  • 30 sec at f5.6  •   ISO 3200  •   Manfrotto Carbon One 440 tripod + Acratech ballhead
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