Why do more than a thousand people a night walk around in the dark without lights in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park every June? For a very good reason...to see the worlds famous Smokies Synchronous Fireflies.
To see such a miracle of nature is simply amazing with the blinking of tens of thousands of lightning bugs that start randomly, then start flashing all at once or in patterns together, and then as fast is it starts, blackness envelops the area and the sounds of the night forest seems to skip a beat, and then, it all starts again.
The flashing of the fireflies which are actually beetles, vary in color, seasonal timing, duration and pattern from species to species, but the main purpose for all of them to flash or glow is to attract a mate.
The majority of the display that we see from the Synchronous Firefly Photinus carolinus which can be found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other wooded areas and fields close by is the males answer to the female's initial signal of light, which draws him ever closer to her.
While finding the place where the Synchronous Fireflies will flash is not that hard if you can go back to the same spot over and over again from May until July, it's highly impractical.
Virtually every spot the biologists have looked for the Synchronous Firefly in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they have found them, as long as the biologist timing was right.
Timing is everything when it comes to the fireflies as you only have about a 2 week window when they flash their best, before which they are underground and after which they have mated, laid their eggs and have died.
What you have to do to find the is Synchronous Lightning Bugs is understand when they are going to emerge from the soil as fully grown adults ready to mate. In lower elevations of the National Park at the 2,000 foot mark such as in Elkmont where some of the best firefly displays can be seen, that can be as early as the Early May to Mid June.
On average, low elevation peak synchronous firefly activity is the first into the second week of June; however, in 2012 it was the last week of May due to unseasonably warm weather. This year's seasonal emergence of plants and insects was about 3 weeks later than last year so we are right on target with the parks estimation at his point.
One of the best ways to see the fireflies is to take the shuttle buses running from June 6th through June 13th that takes you from the Sugarlands Visitor Center parking area to the Little River Hiking Trail parking area in Elkmont.
Sadly, far more people want to go see the fireflies in the Smokies than the national park can accommodate, so for years the first come first served system of the firefly shuttle buses have been scrapped for a reservation system that leaves just as many people missing out on the show, but not waiting in long lines for no reason. Advance parking passes to buy tickets sold out in hours with the remaining half going to sell out fast on the day before each departure.
Another choice area for see in the Synchronous Lightning Bugs is the Great Smoky Mountains National park is in Tremont for the 3rd and last week in May as the elevation is about 800 or so feet less than in Elkmont and they do emerge and mature sooner. This road also sees very little traffic so the lights won't disturb the fireflies as much.
If you feel like walking, another great spot to the see the fireflies is to hike into Cades Cove which is allowed even as the road is closed to motor vehicle traffic. Here in Cades Cove, which is at an elevation between Tremont and Elkmont, choice areas are Hyatt Lane, by the Abrams Falls Trailhead or by Sparks Lane.
Not planning or arriving to the Smokies until the 2nd weekend in June or later and still want to see the synchronized fireflies in the GSMNP? Higher up is when you need to go. Try the Newfound Gap Parking Area, around Clingmans Dome, along the Foothills Parkway East or Foothills Parkway West.
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