One of nature’s most unusual spectacles – synchronous fireflies — takes place in June, and it’s a good idea to plan ahead if you want to see it.
There are more than a dozen species of fireflies, and three are known to show this unusual behavior of synchronizing.
Fireflies start life as eggs, and live for two years in the soil and under the bark of trees before emerging in their winged form. Once they begin to fly, they never eat again, and groups of 20 to several hundred will all flash together, creating a genuine spectacle for those willing to stand around the woods or fields in the dark on a June night.
Many folks think the Great Smoky Mountains are the only place to see synchronous fireflies, but they can be found in several other places as well.
Our favorite place to see them is the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania (see interactive map below). The local town of Kellettville, in Forest County, hosts an annual festival featuring guided walks and expert talks, but for the few weeks the bugs are active you can just walk out and look at them. Nor do you have to walk far. Stake out a site at the Kellettville Campground in the National Forest, and walk onto the bridge over Tionesta Creek. Watch the fireflies put on a show. Of course, you can walk down along the creek and get into the middle of it all if you like. There are dispersed campsites available too.
Another place you can watch synchronous fireflies is in Congaree National Park. This little known park is near Columbia, in the interior of South Carolina. It’s full of huge, beautiful old growth trees, and we’ll give you a complete description one of these days. Meanwhile, know that flashing season is about a month sooner than in Pennsylvania, and sometimes starts as early as the middle of May. Congaree has a lot of wetland areas and is notorious for mosquitoes, so be prepared in case they’re about. They do tend to abate as it gets darker, and this park has some of the darkest skies in the state.
The operation in the Smokies is a bit more organized, with a lottery for passes to the Sugarlands parking area on firefly nights. Early June is the window for the Smokies outbreak, and can vary by as much as two weeks. Check the park website for updates. And if you love fireflies, think about making a stop to see their cousins, the glowworms. They can be seen seasonally at Hazard Cave in Tennessee, and at Dismals Canyon in northwest Alabama.
Some things simply can’t be captured with a camera, and this is one of them. Early summer air redolent with new growth and rich with moisture, the buzz of nighttime insects and frogs, a sky full of stars, and the excitement of the hushed crowd around you all contribute to an incomparable experience.