There is a great economic boost in the United States through tourists, and one factor we can thank for this is the attraction of fireflies, and one of these phenomenal display of nature happens in the Great Smoky Mountains. Thousands of people from all over the country and the world come all the way to see this spectacular event. The park even had to implement a lottery system to control the number of tourists. This year along, twenty-two thousand people signed up for the lottery. On an average, there are around eight hundred to one thousand people that get to experience the event daily during the mating season.
You have to pay one dollar to join the lottery, and they randomly picked winners from those who’ve applied. The winners will get a parking pass which costs twenty-four dollars for the reservation fee. If you win the lottery, you will be able to park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and then take the shuttle, which will cost you around two dollars. The fee includes red lit flashlights, guides for the event as well as your shuttle ride to Elkmont to see the fireflies.
The Great Smoky Mountains is home to a lot of biodiversities. It is home to nineteen different species of fireflies alone even though it is not located in the tropics. One of these species is the Photinus Carolinus fireflies. Also known as the synchronous fireflies. This is because they are the first North American species to have synchronized flash patterns. This behavior is only common in Asia.
Dr. Becky Nichols, the park entomologist, said she can predict when fireflies appear. To know this, she places temperature data loggers onsite which will record the temperature hourly. The data she gets, in turn, goes into a formula to determine what the going degree days are. Apparently, the fireflies need a certain amount of temperature accumulation before they grow, and if you keep adding those numbers together over time, you can predict when pupation will occur, and the adult will emerge. She said that for this year, the Great Smoky Mountains Fireflies are estimated to be seen around May 30 – June 6, 2019. It’s almost as the same time last year.
These beetles have a thick outer shell, and they have red and yellow markings right above their head. What’s impressive about them is that they spend a year to a couple of years as larvae. They are fierce-looking with six legs and with mandibles that stick out in front. During this stage, as well as the pupa stage, they don’t flash but only glow. It’s as if they’re saying that, “I am poisonous don’t’ eat me.” So, they spend one to two years as a pupa and larva, but they only spend three weeks as an adult. They spend around two weeks mating, and after another week they die.
The Photinus Carolinus have built-in lanterns to lure their mates. As the mating ritual starts, the female ones don’t fly; they just wait on the ground for the males to come. The male ones fly around up to around six feet above the forest grounds.
They say that the mating depends on temperature and usually starts at around 9:30 PM onwards. At first, you might think there is no synchronization at all. This is because the males will emit approximately four to eight bright flashes up to around four seconds. And then, you’ll notice that they will altogether pause for about six to eight seconds.
After the last male flashes, the female will respond with a not so bright signal called a doublet. And since it’s composed of two extremely quick flashes, they call it a doublet . Scientists are led to believe that the reason why the males go dark in unison is so that they can quickly identify the female doublet signals that come right after. When males find their way toward the females, copulation doesn’t start right away. She will reject a few males before choosing the right one for her. The rejected ones will continue their search through the night. That is why as the night progresses and the environment grows darker, the display of lights become even more beautiful as the males continue to seek off other females.
The psychedelic display of lights during the courtship of the Great Smoky Mountains Fireflies happen because of a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. There is zero heat that is produced with all the flashing; it’s all pure light. They have light organs which won’t light up unless the bugs shoot oxygen in there, so that means the bugs have control of the light they emit through their Central Nervous System. This means that they are in full control of all the flashing of lights that happen during their mating season. The brightness and synchronous flash patterns and the stop of the flashing are what enables the males to find the females in the area.
The Great Smoky Mountains area is a conducive place for the fireflies to mate. With the thousands of acres of dense forest provide a prime habitat for them. A significant concentration of the synchronous firefly population is expected to arrive this 2019 just like the previous years. This is because they love the undisturbed forest floor and, clear understory with a closed canopy. This paves the way for them to easily find females when they stop flashing in unison in the dark because if males can’t find females reproduction can’t occur.
This silent symphony happens only once a year. The fireflies gather in swarms and flashes all at once and those who’ve experienced it say that there are just no words to describe the breath-taking event. You’d have to experience it yourself, and that is why a lot of people are placing it on their bucket list.
If you get the once in a lifetime chance to witness this natural display of fireworks, please remember to follow firefly watching etiquette. Don’t use white light flashlights as it will ruin the shots taken by others. Moreover, do not catch the synchronous fireflies and take them home. Just quietly watch and admire them without disturbing them. Lastly, ensure to take any trash with you.
To have something like this to share with our generation is a blessing to us. Thus, we must protect it so that the next generation can see them. Since a lot of natural wonder and mystery, we can have the opportunity to enjoy them. But, we can only experience it if we just take the time to do so. So, we all need to relax and take a break from all the stress and pressures of life. There is no better way to do that than to smell the flowers, breathe fresh air, enjoy the scenery and witness the majestic show of lights caused by the Great Smoky Mountains Fireflies.