Southern Fireflies Flash in Unison In This One Magical Place
Close your eyes and think back on your fondest childhood memories. Perhaps they involve jumping in a pool with your friends on a sweltering day, grilling next to your dad, or the scent of freshly cut grass. And somewhere in the recesses of your mind is likely the memory of watching the lightning bugs (or fireflies) start to flicker as the sun went down and long into the summer night.
While most kids get to experience this at one point or another, a specific group of Southern children living near the Great Smoky Mountains get to kick it up a notch thanks to living in the habitat of synchronous fireflies.
Synchronous fireflies, the National Parks Service (NPS) explained on its site, are one of at least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But, what makes them special is the fact that they are the “only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.”
Though the bugs only live as adults for 21 days they try to make the most of it by finding a mate. And they do so by creating a light pattern as their mating display.
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Each species of firefly, NPS explained, “has a characteristic flash pattern that helps its male and female individuals recognize each other.”
Most of the fireflies produce a greenish-yellow light, while one specific species has a bluish light.
“The males fly and flash and the usually stationary females respond with a flash,” it added.
The fireflies are able to flash thanks to a reaction known as “bioluminescence” which involves “highly efficient chemical reactions that result in the release of particles of light with little or no emission of heat.”
For fireflies, that means combining the chemical luciferin and oxygen with the enzyme luciferase in their lanterns located in their belly. As to why these fireflies flash synchronously, well, that remains one of nature’s many mysteries.
To see it in action, travelers can pay a visit to the Elkmont Viewing Area of the Great Smoky Mountains, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, during the peak flashing season from late May to mid-June. However, you must also enter — and win — the lottery for a coveted ticket inside which opens in April. Lottery winners will also be charged a $25 reservation fee. And, if you do win you must follow a few simple rules: No flashlights in the viewing area; pack your trash out; and, of course, no catching the fireflies.