Once a year, the people of North Carolina have front row seats to one of the best light shows in the world. Along the Great Smoky Mountains, viewers will find thousands of fireflies lighting up the forest by night.
Every year, the fireflies grace the Great Smoky Mountains with their presence sometime between the third week of May and the third week of June.
This year, May 30th to June 6th are considered by the park to be the best nights to view the fireflies. However, bearing witness to this wonderful event is not as easy as just driving out to the Great Smoky Mountains; you’ll need to enter a lottery first.
Because of the huge demand to visit the park during the firefly season, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has established a lottery system to fairly pick the lucky few who will get to see the spectacle.
The lottery opened this year on April 26th at 8 am EST and closed on April 29th at 8 pm EST. The lucky few who get to go this year were notified on May 10th.
While it is too late to enter this year, it could be a good idea to keep the raffle in mind for next year. First-hand testimonies indicate the fireflies are more than worthy of a spot on your bucket list. In total, 1,800 vehicles will be allowed to enter the park for only $25 each and an extra $2 for the shuttle to the viewing point.
If you do manage to win this year or next, remember that your pass only allows you to enter the park on a specific date and you must arrive somewhere between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm.
According to the National Park Service’s website, the male fireflies synchronize their lights in the Great Smoky Mountains to attract female fireflies. The species, accordingly named synchronous fireflies, are the only species of the bug in America known to synchronize their lights. There are 19 known species of the firefly in the park.
Even experts are not entirely sure why these fireflies flash their lights at the same time. Clearly, the males are competing with each other for mates. One theory is that flashing at the same time gives the females a better chance to directly compare each male’s brightness.
Another theory is that by shining at the same time, the males are sure to attract the attention of every female in the area, making success more likely even if there is more competition. Presumably, some of these fireflies are thereby playing “wingman” for some of their friends.
A video posted to YouTube by the Knoxville News Sentinel shows the synchronous firefly display in 2011. The video captures the males flying in the air and shining their lights while the females wait on the ground and shine their lights faintly.
The event certainly looks like something that should not be missed. Keep in mind, though, that the quality of your view of the light display will be affected by the weather.
On its website, the National Park Service says, “On misty, drippy evenings following rainfall, the insects may not readily display. Cool temperatures, below 50º Fahrenheit, will also shut down the display for the night.”
Even the phase of the moon may help or hinder your sight of the fireflies. The display begins a little bit later when the moon is bright.
Once you’ve secured your parking tickets, there are only a few rules you’ll need to observe during the light show.
A flashlight will probably be necessary for you and your family to find the perfect viewing spot, but the flashlight can only be aimed at the ground and covered in either red or blue colored cellophane.
Once you’ve found your perfect viewing spot, the flashlight must be turned off.
Of course, you will also be expected to treat the fireflies with respect and not disturb their mating rituals. You cannot catch the fireflies, leave garbage at the park, or leave the paved trails at any time.
Remember in April next year to join the park lottery and have a chance to witness one of nature’s great spectacles – a light show to remember!