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Beetle Mania - Synchronous Fireflies of the Smoky Mountains

Updated on September 27, 2011

Photinus carolinus - the synchronous firefly of the Smokies

Photo by Andrew Moiseff
Photo by Andrew Moiseff

Flashers of the Smokies

The Smoky Mountains Synchronous fireflies are lightning bugs that flash on and off in unison can be found in only two places in the world. One is at Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the other is in Malaysia in Southeast Asia.

Of the fourteen species of fireflies in the Smokies, the Photinus carolinus is the only one with harmonic rhythmic flashing light patterns. The fireflies display their light show each June and it lasts for about two weeks.

The firefly is a type of beetle that only lives about twenty-one days as an adult but takes from 1-2 years to mature from the larvae stage. During daylight hours, the lightning bug is a pretty non-descript beetle. It really shines at night - literally. The flashing pattern allows the males to attract a mate. No one really knows why this bioluminescence (the production and emission of light by a living organism) occurs in a regular pattern but it is mesmerizing to watch.

The light show usually starts at about dusk. Round-trip trolley service for about $1.00 from the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Elkmont is offered nightly during the event. No private vehicles are permitted at Elkmont or road-side both for safety reasons and lack of suitable parking. The event attracts thousands each year, both local and tourist alike. Only those visitors parking at the visitor center are allowed to ride the trolleys.

The trolleys run continually from Sugarlands Visitor Center until about 9 pm or until the parking area is full. The last trolley to return visitors from Elkmont to Sugarlands Visitor Center is usually scheduled at 11 p.m.

Visitors should bring flashlights with red cellophane covers to reduce bright white lights. Lawn chairs and food and water in backpacks that can fit on laps in the trolleys are permitted. There is no food or restroom available at the site. Visitors are prohibited from bringing ice chests, alcoholic beverages and pets.

If you're in the area during the first couple of weeks in June, plan to attend for a fascinating display of "synchronous night lights!"

Elkmont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Elkmont, Gatlinburg, TN 37738, USA

get directions

Find the synchronous fireflies here!


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