|Time lapsed photo of Elkmont Fireflies|
Soon the twinkle of one lone Lightning Bug (some people call them fireflies, I call them lightning bugs..) would signal the hunt. We collected them in the stinky jar ( the jars always stunk, no matter how well you washed them) with a few blades of grass, only to find them dead as a door nail the next morning. This always saddened me and maybe this is the root of my lifelong guilt- Judy: Lightning Bug killer....snuffer of life. But I would try again and again to domesticate the little boogers with no success.
But back to the Elkmont Synchronized Fireflies. As i said earlier, they first appear early June and are active for about two weeks. This time frame depends on the weather. Last year they peaked their activity in late May and were completely through the cycle by June, which lead to thousands of disappointed people with tickets to see the show. Yes, I said tickets. The event has become so popular and out of control that the National Park Service had to implement a Firefly viewing program. The only area they appear in is near the Elkmont Campground in the Smokies. You have to walk into the forest located off of of a small road above the campground. When the news of the fireflies hit the presses, thousands of people began to pour into this tiny area. The end result was classically human : trash, noise, alcohol (what's a light show without a buzz), hundreds of cars emitting pollutants, fights, etc...etc.... and of course all these great nature explorers had flash lights, and worse- flash photography. Nothing is as stupid as thinking you can be in total darkness and take a picture of something this delicate and aloof, but by Gawd the tourists think they can. Why is this a problem? Because any light from other sources interfere with the flashing pattern of the firefly and send them into mass confusion. So finally the Park Service (thank God) said "enough". Two years ago, after seeing over seven thousand people try to converge into the small area in ten days, they started a ticket/reservation only process. Trolleys from Gatlinburg take those with tickets to the area and drop them off. Each person is educated in proper "firefly viewing etiquette", You place red tinted plastic wrap over your flashlights. You see all this flashing and beautiful activity is about sex. Isn't everything? They have a two week period to mate and then the males die. I will try to describe it to you, as most will never experience this phenomenon. At about 9:30, you will see them start to move and flash just above the forest floor they increase quickly and at this point they look like every other lightning bug.. no big whoop. But within an hour or so, you realize they are hundreds, if not thousands of them all around you. Soon they start the dance. The males stay in the air, varying in height from a couple of feet to ten feet or so. The females are in the ground cover. Have you ever seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind? This is what it reminds me of, sans the music. They begin a pulsating light show. Kind of like synchronized Christmas Lights, but oh my so much more beautiful. Mother Nature at one of her finest hours, in my opinion. One group(hundreds) will flash for about six seconds and go totally black, then the group in another area will flash.