It’s blue firefly season – here’s where you can check it out

BREVARD – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park announced winners of the lottery to see the synchronous fireflies in June. Only 1,800 slots were awarded out of 21,000 parking permit applications. However the flashing and glowing blue ghost fireflies can be spotted across the Western North Carolina mountains. The observation of synchronous flashing of fireflies in the forest is a bit of what mystery and magic nature can provide.

Unlike the common lightning bug on our grassy lawns, blue ghost synchronous fireflies need damp, undisturbed forested areas with a heavy leaf litter layer. That’s where the females and the larvae live. They are about the size of a rice grain and do not fly. You can see them in the Smokies, in the Pisgah National Forest, in DuPont State Forest. This is all preserved land, so the soil layer is preserved.


DuPont State Recreational Forest in Transylvania and Henderson counties has created such an onslaught of people disturbing habitat and actually stepping on the tiny beetles that the N.C. Forest Service is closing one of the most popular areas after dark. Part of the High Falls Loop Trail near the Visitor Center will close at 10 p.m. from mid-May to early June. “DuPont State Recreational Forest receives more than 600,000 visitors a year.

Blue ghosts – official name Phausus reticulata – don’t blink; they fly while glowing a bluish hue for up to a minute, Frick-Ruppert said. Based on her studies of the creatures, when the male comes close to where the wingless females are glowing on the forest floor, he cuts off his light, drops down to the ground, stops glowing, and tries to cover the female’s glow while they’re mating “probably so others can’t see what’s going on.”

Male and female synchronous fireflies – Photinus carolinus – can both fly. In their mating ritual, the males emit a yellowish flash six times, and do it in unison, then all stop at once, then the females respond with a flash, Frick-Ruppert said, in a light-enhanced dance of attraction. It looks like little elves or fairies carrying a light through forest.  — Asheville Citizen-Times

The Pisgah and Nantahala national forests have no closing time or try camping at Davidson River, Lake Powhatan, North Mills River or Black Mountain campgrounds, or any of the many dispersed camp sites throughout the forest. Even the campgrounds on the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the Smokies, should net a firefly sighting.

Places with old growth forest, such as Joyce Kilmer in the Nantahala National Forest, where forests haven’t been disturbed in hundreds of years, are safe bets as well.


Firefly viewing tips:

Start looking between mid-may and mid-June
Look after dark in forests with heavy leaf litter
Cover your flashlight with red or blue cellophane and point it at the ground.
Turn flashlight off when you find spot fireflies
Do not catch the fireflies
Stay on established trails