We love the Great Smoky Mountains. The sights, the attractions, the people – we can’t get enough of it. And in addition to our cabins being located throughout the mountains, we’re always excited to explore all that the area has to offer. The Smokies are filled with treasures and surprises year round, but one of our favorites are the fireflies.
Every year in late May or early June, lights from the synchronous Smoky Mountain fireflies event set Elkmont Campground aglow as they put on a stunning show for potential mates. It’s like nature’s own personal light show. But don’t take our word for it – find out what’s so special about the fireflies of the Smokies and where and when you can see them for yourself below:
Synchronous Fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The naturally occurring phenomenon of the light show put on by the Photinus carolinus, a firefly species that flashes synchronously, peaks every year during an eight day stretch when concentration of the insects displaying – or flashing – is the highest. As one of at least 19 species of fireflies found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, these are the only ones in the park – and the country! – that synchronize their flashing light patterns.
This year, the ticketed event will take place from Tues., June 2 through Tues., June 9. Parking passes for Sugarlands Visitor Center can be purchased for $1.50 starting at 10 a.m. on Thurs. April 30 online at www.recreation.gov. An additional 85 passes will be made available online on the day prior to the viewing at 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on the following day or until the event spaces are sold out. Shuttles will provide visitors with guaranteed parking passes for Sugarlands Visitor Center where ticket-holders will park for reserved shuttle service to Elkmont. As in previous years, the shuttle cost will be $1.00 round trip per person.
The fireflies’ synchronized flashing patterns are a mystery, with no scientifically proven reason why only they display in unison. Males may be competing for the attention of the observing females, offering a better comparison by all flashing at once, or they may be trying to be the first flash. The insects do not always synchronize their lights, with random flashes throughout the crowd in between short periods of synchrony that end abruptly.
Nature’s Light Show
Bioluminescence is the chemical reaction that allows fireflies to illuminate. This process can be observed in certain species of fungus, fish, shrimp, jellyfish, plankton, glowworms, gnats, snails and springtails, as well. The ability is unique and very efficient, as organisms with bioluminescent capabilities produce light – referred to as “cold light” – with little or no heat production. Alternatively, manufactured light sources give off great amounts of heat that most organisms would be unable to survive. For instance, incandescent light bulbs give off 10 percent light energy and 90 percent heat energy. In contrast, fireflies give off nearly 100 percent light energy.
While the mating season of the insects is two weeks, the park offers parking passes for the Smoky Mountain fireflies event on the days projected to have the most light activity. Several environmental variables can affect the displays. Dips in temperature below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and damp evenings after summer showers can both cause the insects to not display. Moon phases are also known to impact displays, as nights with bright moonlight result in later displays than usual.
Attendees hoping to see the best light show should take certain precautions not to disrupt the fireflies or impair other viewers’ night vision. The light show will be best enjoyed when you do the following:
- Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane
- Use your flashlight only when walking to your viewing spot
- Point your flashlight at the ground
- Turn off your flashlight when you find your viewing spot
- Do not catch the fireflies
- Stay on the trail at all times
- Pick up all of your garbage
Need to know more? You can find more information about the Smoky Mountain fireflies event here.
We know you’ll love this spectacular light show in the Smokies. We hope to see you there!