Every child knows that for two or three magical weeks each summer, twilight glows with the lights of hundreds of fireflies as they take to the sky in search of mates. You may have even spent a few humid summer evenings capturing these tiny nightlights in a jar, passing the tradition on to your own children.
In June each year, the Great Smoky Mountains come alive with an even more spectacular version of the lightning bug show: synchronous fireflies.
That's One Clever Bug
The Great Smoky Mountains are home to 14 varieties of firefly. All fireflies use their flashing lights to attract mates, so the various species have developed a talent for turning their lights on and off in a particular pattern. This allows members of the same species to recognize one another amid the thousands of flashing insects.
For one particular species of firefly, though, a recognizable flash pattern wasn't enough. These clever little beetles have learned to flash in unison. No one quite knows how they manage it, or why, but for about two weeks each June, lucky visitors to the area are treated to a nightly light show that can't be beat.
A Delight for the Whole Family
You'll begin your firefly-watching adventure in Gatlinburg, where you and the kids will board a trolley to the viewing area. Feel free to bring along snacks and drinks, but no coolers please. The trolley will drop you near Elkmont, the best place for spotting synchronous fireflies. From there, it's a short walk to the show.
The fireflies begin to appear as soon as it's dark, and they're not always in synchrony. Random blinking may be followed by short bursts of synchronous flashing, which is followed by periods of total darkness before the whole show begins again. If you're lucky, you may even see the fireflies light in waves across the hills and valleys.
Feel free to bring along a video camera to capture the event and lawn chairs if you'd like to relax while you watch. The park service does ask that you leave the jars at home, though. These lightning bugs are strictly for looks.
Private Wildlife Adventures Available
Want to really experience the wonder of the Great Smoky Mountains? Rent a secluded cabin and get a close-up look at some of the most beautiful wilderness in America. The fireflies might not be as entertaining – synchronicity only occurs in a few locations – but you'll find plenty of other wildlife to admire from the lounge chairs on your front porch.
Miles of hiking trails, scenic drives, historic settlements, and even world-class dining await you in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN this summer. Everyone in your family will find plenty to keep them entertained, and if you plan your trip for early June, you'll witness one of nature's most alluring light shows. It's a midsummer vacation your family will be talking about for years to come.
Jon Hoffman is Reservations Manager of Volunteer Cabin Rentals specializing in Smoky Mountain rental cabins in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN. Visit them today at http://www.volunteercabinrentals.com to book cabins for weddings, vacations, reunions and other special events.