Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina is Home to Rare Population of Synchronous Fireflies
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has had the market cornered on synchronous fireflies for years. But thanks to a relatively recent discovery, the Blue Ridge Mountains just might give it a run for its money.
The Photinus carolinus is a species of firefly that each year, typically in the spring, put on a synchronous light display in order to find a mate. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.
For decades, it was believed that the Smokies had the only population of synchronous fireflies in U.S. And while synchronous fireflies were eventually identified in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and in two other parts of Tennessee, the Smokies have always gotten the glory. In fact, the annual viewing event at the Elkmont Campground in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is so popular that the National Park Service instituted a lottery system for tickets.
So, you can imagine how surprised Dr. Clyde Sorenson, a professor of entomology at N.C. State University, was by what he saw when he spent the night on Grandfather Mountain in June 2019.
"I noticed them immediately by their flash pattern—they were synchronous. By 10 p.m. there were hundreds of them. I walked up and down the roads and they were all through the woods. It thrilled me to death," Sorenson told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Sorenson confirmed his findings with East Tennessee naturalist Lynn Faust, an expert on the subject. He was right: the beloved nature park in Linville, North Carolina, is officially home to Photinus carolinus.
"There's only a handful of species all around the world that do this, and for a long time, this particular species, the phenomenon of seeing large numbers of them synchronizing has been associated tightly with just a couple geographical areas," Sorenson told Grandfather.com. "But the species goes all the way from New York to Georgia. Where they have been most widely known and recognized for so long is at Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But that's at 2,200 feet. Where I saw them (at Grandfather) was at 4,200 feet."
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A representative from Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, the not-for-profit that runs the popular nature preserve, confirmed to Southern Living that park staff has been observing the fireflies in the years since Sorenson's discovery.
While the coronavirus pandemic delayed a grand reveal, Grandfather Mountain plans to have public viewing opportunities in 2022. Those dates and details will be shared at a later time.
We'll see you there!