Imagine standing in your backyard, and suddenly you’re surrounded by glowing pinpricks of light, all pulsing in unison. Well, for two weeks out of the year, Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains host a magical natural display. From May to June, one strain of firefly glows synchronously, and they all flash simultaneously. This stunning phenomenon is a mating ritual, and the National Park Service offers shuttles to firefly-filled areas during this time.
Scientists studying the firefly have found that the males flash in unison as a way for the female to be sure she is responding to one of her own. Other firefly species are flashing at night, and some of them are predatory, so she must be able to know males of her species. The flash patterns are more intricate than you would think. They are a series of 5-8 flashes, followed by a pause of about 8 seconds. Initially, the flashing appears random, but the period of darkness is synchronized. As more males start joining in, the flashing will also begin to synchronize, and entire parts of the forest will be pulsing with light.
To protect these fireflies, be sure to collect your garbage when you leave, and despite what the kid in you says, do not try to catch them!
You’ll want to circle back around for the next one…..
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Those Tennessee fireflies: Similar display at Westmoreland State Park in Virginia. Enchanting, almost magical.