Story at a glance

  • Known as photinus carolinus, this species of firefly performs a magical mating ritual one period of time per year where they flash in unison for a few seconds before ceasing together.
  • This phenomenon occurs each year for two weeks toward the end of spring in the Great Smoky Mountains.
  • Over 20,000 people hailing from every U.S. state and three other countries entered the National Park Service’s lottery hoping to win one of the only 800 parking passes given to witness this year’s showing.

“You would not believe your eyes, if 10 million fireflies lit up the world as I fell asleep …”

It isn’t 10 million fireflies, but it sure is a magical display.

Each year for two weeks toward the end of spring, people flock to the Great Smoky Mountains at dusk to witness the unbelievable display of a flurry of fireflies twinkling in unison for a few seconds before ceasing together.

“It can give you the impression like you’re standing in a stadium and people are starting to do ‘the wave,’” Dana Soehn, a spokesperson for the national park, told The Guardian“It is this dazzling, one-of-a-kind natural phenomenon.”

Known as photinus carolinus, this species of firefly can be seen performing this magical mating ritual one period of time per year, though it is still unknown to researchers why or how the insects synchronize the display.


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“I think it’s still a mystery, which is why we’re all here,” said Orit Peleg, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, studying the insect. “We’re all driven by trying to understand them better.”

The fireflies can only be seen performing their dazzling light show for a few hours each night during this time period, and nabbing the chance to witness the phenomenon is no easy feat. Over 20,000 people hailing from every U.S. state and three other countries entered the National Park Service’s lottery hoping to win one of the only 800 parking passes given to witness this year’s showing during an eight-day period that ended this week.

“It is one of the most special experiences that you can have in the natural world and the nighttime skies to be able to have this dazzling series of lights that then abruptly stop for eight seconds,” Soehn said. “It puts you in an almost magical type of environment.”


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Published on Jun 11, 2021