Fact check: Viral images show trees and artificial lights, not fireflies

·3 min read

The claim: Images show fireflies photographed in trees

A Facebook post claims images of golden lights falling from several trees actually show bugs using a photography trick.

"Fireflies photographed in trees with long time exposure," the caption reads. Accompanying it are three photographs of illuminated trees.

The Oct. 20 post, which was shared more than 1,100 times within a day, identifies Vitor Schietti as the photographer.

Other versions of the post have also accumulated thousands of shares in just a few days. The images also gained traction on other platforms, including Reddit and Twitter, earlier this year.

Fact check: Image claiming to show Blue Angels' 'Hand of God' maneuver is a digital drawing

Some social media users admired the purported natural phenomenon caught on camera in the comments.

"Nature is so amazing. And so is this stunning capture! The lightening power of lightening (sic) bugs magnified!!!!," one user commented.

"Wow so beautiful," another one wrote.

The photos are real, but they don't portray fireflies. They are artificial lights, according to the photographer who took them.

Fact check: Photos of bare, fully stocked grocery store shelves shared online to support false claim

USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

Photographer used long exposure and artificial lights

The post had one thing right: The images are by Brazilian photographer Vitor Schietti.

All three images are part of Schietti's "Impermanent Sculptures" gallery, which he started as a project of "light painting" in 2015, according to his website.

The concept of the gallery is to draw or paint with light, he wrote online. Schietti relied on artificial pyrotechnic light sources, LED flashlights, car lanterns and city lights.

"The images created, closer to abstraction than figurativeism, evoke elementary symbols, such as the triangle, the circle, or they walk like organisms on the stage," the description of the gallery says.

Fact check: False claims of organ harvesting, mutilation in death of Illinois student Jelani Day

Schietti confirmed to USA TODAY the photos don't depict fireflies or any insects. He said these claims were "born completely out of my control or intentions."

In an Instagram story from Aug. 29, Schietti acknowledged a post that claimed his photographs show fireflies. He wrote his photos have "nothing to do with fireflies, but with fire sparkles (of a safe kind for such use.)"

According to the site, the resulting images are "composite forms of light, which will never be found in the physical world."

The photos are "nothing more than an illusion," Schietti says on his website.

According to a description of the gallery in Schietti's downloadable catalog, some images are acquired in one single exposure, but most are composed "by the process of overlaying several photographs."

Fact check: False claim that cancer is trying to heal a person, not kill them

The three images shared on Facebook were taken this year in Brasilia, Brazil's capital, the catalog says.

Fact check: Image shows Tibetan nuns, not first African settlers to Japan

In a video Schietti posted to his Vimeo page in April, he shows how he climbs the trees and uses fire sparkles. He moves these, which are attached to a long stick he holds, around the tree while the camera takes the long exposure shot.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a group of images shows fireflies and lightning bugs in trees. The photographer who took the images used a combination of artificial lights to create the illusion of string lights falling from trees, according to his website.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Tree images show artificial lights, not fireflies

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting