The Great Smoky Mountains' Famous Synchronous Firefly Event Will Be Available to Watch Online

Kelly Corbett
Photo credit: Instagram

From House Beautiful

UPDATE, 5/29/2020: Typically during this time of year, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is gearing up for its annual synchronous firefly event. During this eight-day experience, lottery winners (yes, it's that popular!) congregate at the park, which borders North Carolina and Tennessee, for an all-night colorful critter extravaganza. This event features countless fireflies (the park contains 19 species) that travel through the dark sky, delivering a performance as their abdomens glow and flash together. Full disclosure: the fireflies are only flashing their lights because they're, er, trying to mate... but it looks amazing on camera for humans.

However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the lottery, which was supposed to have started on April 24, 2020, was canceled. While the event will still naturally occur, as this is the fireflies’ sacred two-week mating season, there will be no audience this year. Fortunately, the organization behind the spectacle, Discover Life in America (DLiA), called in firefly photographer Radim Schreiber to film the fireflies doing their thing, so you can experience the magic at home.

On Monday, June 1 at 8 pm ET, DLiA will host a live Virtual Fireflies Event on its YouTube channel. Similar to Instagram Live, those who tune in at that time will be able to leave questions in the comment section for DLiA members to answer in real-time. The event description notes that Director of Science and Research, Dr. Will Kuhn will speak, as well as Knoxville radio journalist and DLiA board member Chrissy Keuper. And most importantly, this interactive live stream will feature the world-famous synchronous fireflies (aka Photinus carolinus), as well as blue ghosts (Phausis reticulata) and other cool firefly species native to the Smokies region. “Relaxing sounds of nature” will play in the background. The event is free for all to tune into, but donations are appreciated. After the live stream is over, the video will operate as a normal YouTube clip that can be watched anytime. You can find out more information here.

Original story, 3/6/2020: In 2009, Owl City sang "you would not believe your eyes, if ten million fireflies, lit up the world as I fell asleep" in one of the best pop songs ever, according to me. Now, you can actually witness swarms of fireflies beautifully lighting up the night sky all at once, albeit there will probably only be a couple thousand. If you can score a ticket for this unique and super popular event—so popular there's a lottery for it—you better not fall asleep!

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which borders North Carolina and Tennessee, is gearing up for its annual synchronous firefly event. During this eight-day event, which typically takes place in late May or early June, countless fireflies will travel through the night sky, delivering a performance as their abdomens glow and flash together. It's quite the phenomenon—as you can see from the photos below—not to mention extremely rare.

Known for their unique ability to flash their lights in unison, synchronous fireflies are only found in a handful of places throughout the world, according to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 19 different firefly species, including Photinus carolinus, the only synchronous firefly species that exists in the United States, according to the park’s website.

These synchronized light patterns are actually a part of the firefly mating ritual and help the males and females identify each other: Males will fly and flash their light and females will respond with a flash. The event takes place during their two-week mating season, which starts off slowly as a few insects start flashing at one another, and rapidly grow as more and more lightning bugs start to gleam, eventually creating a light show in the sky for park visitors to watch while laying on the hood of their cars. The dates of the mating period change from year to year, but for the last 27 years, they have fallen between the third week of May and the third week of June.

There is no date set in stone for the eight-day festival yet, as the park is still predicting the optimal mating time, but keep a look out for the lottery, where you can win a spot for your vehicle. The lottery will open on Friday, April 24 at 8 am and close on Tuesday, April 28 at 8 pm—don 't worry, the event will have its dates set in stone by then. Applicants will be notified in May if they have won or not and will be subject to a $24 fee to attend. You can learn more here.

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