Fireflies in early summer can create memories that last a lifetime. Graham County, North Carolina, is the home of two very special species of firefly; the Synchronous firefly (Plotinus Carolinas) and the Blue Ghost Firefly (Pauses reticulate).
Prior to 1900, synchronous fireflies were known only to a privileged few in the Appalachian Mountains. Once the word got out, people came to the Great Smoky Mountain Park to see the fireflies’ spectacular light show on an annual basis. The site at Elmont can become so crowded during peak firefly times that some of the magic is lost to those who don’t enjoy crowds. They have even started a lottery for the privilege of being bused to the location. The good news is that synchronous fireflies also display at various locations in Graham County. The Joyce-Kilmer Memorial Forest is one of the newly discovered locations to view one of the only species of firefly in the United States that can synchronize their flashing light patterns.
During the first week of June, on a quiet, dark, rain-free evening, drive up to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest parking lot. Bring a flashlight covered with blue or red cellophane in order to retain your night vision. Park your car and creep up the trail to sit on a bench and watch the woods light up. At first, everything is pitch black, then, as suddenly as if someone had flicked a light switch, the woods light up like a Christmas tree. The lights continue flashing for about a minute and a half, then just as suddenly, everything is pitch black once again. Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the area normally occurs within a two-week period in mid-June from dark to about 11:00pm. It depends on the weather and the progression of spring.
An additional treat is that you will also see the wonderfully named Blue Ghost Firefly in the forest. This firefly is much smaller than the average firefly, about the size of a grain of rice. They appear for about one month of the year, usually June, and are most often seen around ten o’clock at night. Their blue-green light rarely blinks but glows continuously as the small firefly travels through the air and underbrush. This firefly can actually control the intensity of its light, from low to brilliant. It is easy to imagine that it could have been the inspiration for Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy.
Photograph courtesy of NPS