When: late May to mid-June
Where: Elkmont area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are many unique species of animals that call the Smokies home, but the synchronous fireflies might be the most unique of all.
The synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus, or “lightning bug”) is very similar to many other species of fireflies that you might be familiar with across the world. It’s a small flying beetle with a section of its abdomen that serves as a bioluminescent “lantern”. The difference between these fireflies and others is the synchronous pattern of lighting that they display during their mating period.
The Elkmont area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park is world renowned for being home to the magnificent display of this unique species of firefly. Anywhere from late May to mid-June these fireflies can be seen nightly lighting up the dark hollows of the mountains.
The synchronization can be hard to describe to someone who hasn’t seen it. The fireflies will flash multiple times for a few moments then they will almost completely cease flashing for 6 to 8 seconds, leaving the surrounding area almost pitch black. After a brief ceasing, the fireflies will again flash multiple times until the next break. This unique display typically starts around 9:30 PM and will continue through the night.
The reasoning behind the synchronous display is still relatively unknown. However, most experts agree that it has something to do with the mating process of the fireflies. Typically the male fireflies will fly around during their lighting display while the females remain stationary.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not the only place where this display of the synchronous firefly can be seen, but it is certainly one of the best. In recent years, the demand to witness the event has grown so great that the National Park Service has had to close off the Elkmont area to through traffic and instead use shuttles from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to transport visitors that want to see the display.
Each year, starting at the end of April, parking passes to Sugarlands Visitor Center are sold online for the peak week of the firefly display. These tickets sell out almost instantly so if you plan on attending next year make sure and obtain all the information you will need.