FINDING SYNCHRONOUS FIREFLIES
Seeing a sparkling carpet of fireflies in your backyard can be a magical experience. But imagine seeing them all flashing at once—in a symphony of light. Synchronous species of fireflies are very special—and they exist only in a handful of places throughout the world. Here are a few places where you can find them, if you know where to look.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Photinus carolinus is the only synchronous species of firefly out of 19 species that is found in the park. Their mating display is spectacular, and usually takes place between May and June within a two-week window—depending on the temperature and moisture of the soil. The synchronized flashes of this species take place in bursts of five to eight every few seconds or so.
Best Viewing Dates: May 17 – June 21
Peak Times: 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Visit: Tours available. Contact Recreation.gov for info.
Tickets to see the fireflies at a designated viewing area are sold in advance, and shuttle buses are provided during the display period. The tickets usually sell out fast.
Allegheny National Forest
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was once thought to be the only place where you can see synchronous fireflies in North America, and it remains the best known. But in 2012, a colony of these fireflies was found in Pennsylvania’s only national forest—one that’s being heavily logged and cleared for gas drilling. The species found here is also Photinus carolinus, one of approximately fifteen found in the area.
Best Viewing Dates: June 10 – June 22
Peak Times: 10:00pm
Visit: Contact Allegheny National Park for info.
Rocky Fork State Park
Rocky Fork is a northeast Tennessee State Park and is one of the lesser known locations to view synchronous fireflies. The species responsible for the displays is Photinus carolinus. The park contains 2,076 acres of scenic wilderness in Unicoi County, in the southern Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. The park does offer guided viewings of the flashing events. Viewing is limited and controlled by a lottery. Please contact the park for more information.
Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area
Oak Ridge WMA is home to the United States’ other species of synchronous firefly, Photuris frontalis also known as Snappy Syncs. In the summer of 2015, an abundant population of these fireflies was found in the Oak Ridge WMA forests. Oak Ridge is in east Tennessee near Knoxville, and the WMA is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 32,000 acre reservation. The Snappy Sync firefly was found in old growth forests near a water source. The WMA has largely been untouched since WWII, and very few people are allowed to transverse most of the area, as it is controlled access; however, there are greenways and access points that are open for hiking and wildlife viewing during the day.
Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park is located in South Carolina and probably one of the least known areas for synchronous fireflies in North America. Just like locations in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, Photinus carolinus is the species of firefly responsible for putting on a synchronized display here. For two weeks in late May and early June the fireflies in Congaree will blink in unison on evenings with the right weather conditions. The habitat of Congaree is also slightly more unique than others with synchronous fireflies in that it’s more swampy and known as an “old growth floodplain forest”.
Best Viewing Dates: May 14 – June 14
Peak Times: 8:00pm – 10:00pm
Visit: Call the park and ask a park ranger for info.
Southeast Asian mangrove forests
Synchronous fireflies in Southeast Asia are not as rare as those found in North America. In this part of the world, you’ll often find them in mangrove forests, nipa palms, and other forested areas along riverbanks, lighting up entire trees with their spectacular displays. The genus found here is Pteroptyx, of which there are numerous species.
Best Viewing Dates: All Year (January – December)
Peak Times: 7:15pm – 11:00pm
Visit: Kayak tours available. Contact Kayakasia for info and tour times.
The nightly synchronous firefly displays here can be absolutely stunning, rivaling anything you can see in the U.S. Part of the reason for this is because fireflies mate year-round here. At certain times of year,
this can create overlap between the older adult fireflies with the newly winged fireflies. This creates a fantastic display, but is very hard to predict due to the long development period of these firefies.
Fireflies in the Philippines
are also very sensitive to light and noise. River guides report that yellowish light, or light that flickers a lot can disturb and sometimes attract them, so when conducting tours they are trained to keep lights steady. Loud noises, smoke, and strong winds also disturb them.
Cajon Bonito Arizona
This is a different species than that found in the Alleghenies and Great Smoky Mountains—Photinus knulli. Because the population of this species in the area is so small, they do not produce the dramatic spectacles you can see in the Eastern mountains and in Southeast Asia—perhaps this is why they are not as widely known or sought-after. Firefly researchers state that the males of this species gather in groups called “leks” and flash synchronously to attract females to their area. The males in this species generally flash three times per second.
Synchronous fireflies are very rare—but their spectacles are stunning and worth the effort it takes to seek them out. For many people, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Find them wherever they dwell, and you won’t regret it.