Every June, a unique phenomenon occurs in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Synchronous Fireflies! This year, make plans to take part in this magical event held in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from June 6, 2013- June 13, 2013
Fireflies, also called lightning bugs, are actually beetles! They take from one to two years to mature from larvae to adult and live as adults for only about 21 days. The light is produced by chemicals and enzymes in their abdomens and is called “bio-luminescence”.
There are at least 19 different species of fireflies in the Park, but only one provides a stunning light show every year in mid-June for about 2 weeks. The Synchronous Firefly (Photinus carolinus) is the only species in North America whose individuals have the ability to flash in unison. The only other place in the world you can see this unique display is Southeast Asia.
Fireflies emit light to attract a mate. In most species of firefly, both males and females are capable of flashing. Each species has its own “flash-code” to help males find females of the their same species with which to mate. The males fly and flash while the usually stationary females respond with a flash. Most species produce a greenish-yellow light, but one species produces a bluish light. How and why these fireflies are able to flash synchronously is a more complicated question. Several researchers have studied these beetles in search of an answer. UConn researcher Andrew Moiseff has been trying to Unravel the Mystery of the Fireflies’ Flash for years. No one knows for sure why they flash together, but it is likely related to competition among males.
Viewing the Light Show!
There are lots of places to view the light show in and around Great Smoky Mountains National Park. According to Discover Life in America, these fireflies are found in every watershed in the park. The best places to view them are at the edges of moist wooded areas. The display starts at full dark, usually around 9:30 and lasts until about midnight.
One of the best places to see light show is at Elkmont Campground. From late May to early June, the road to Elkmont will be closed after 5 p.m., but you can park at Sugarlands Visitor Center and take a Trolley to Elkmont for $1 roundtrip. Contact the Park for more information: 1-865-436-1200.
Fire Fly Etiquette
- Please use your flashlight as little as possible and cover it with blue or red cellophane -this light is not as bright and won’t disrupt the show for others.
- Do not catch the fireflies; just like all other wildlife in the park, they are protected!
- Stay on the trail.
- Take your trash with you out of the Park.
Hope you are able to visit us in the Smokies this June and experience this natural wonder firsthand! Remember, this event is a sell out each year, so be sure to book your Gatlinburg cabin with ERA in the Smokies!