By Mallory Leonard
East Tennesseans who live near the Smoky Mountains know their home is a special place. This area is so special, in fact, that it hosts one of the rarest sights in the world: synchronous fireflies. Every year, this species of firefly gathers in the Smokies for their two-week mating season in late spring. At the peak of their season, these fireflies can be seen blinking in synchronicity.
The flashes of bioluminescence emitted by lightning bugs are essential to their mating ritual. The males flash to the females, who may or may not flash in response. During this special time, though, all males and females of this species flash together in mass. No one knows for sure what makes synchronous fireflies behave this way, but the effect is truly awesome—hundreds of individuals acting in harmony. Perhaps the mystery of it is what draws so many people year after year.
A few weeks before the event, the National Parks Service distributes a limited number of advanced parking tickets online. However, as in the case of this year, the tickets are gone the instant they go on sale. For those who miss out, there are 85 passes that can be reserved starting at 10:00 a.m. the day before you wish to attend by going to www.recreation.gov or calling (877) 444-6777. Again though, these disappear faster than the flash of a lightning bug, so plan ahead.
And yes, this spectacle is worth every bit of the mania it takes to get a pass.
The lucky few who get their hands on a ticket must park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and ride a shuttle to the Elkmont viewing area after sundown. This year, the synchronous fireflies can be seen from Tuesday, June 2, through Tuesday, June 8.
Because viewers will be walking around in the woods after dark, some may want to bring a flashlight. However, if you do, be sure to cover it with blue or red cellophane, and point it directly toward the ground and only when you’re walking to your selected viewing spot. Once you are settled, turn off the artificial light and revel in nature’s light show, an experience that is nothing short of magical.
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