Synchronized Fire Flies at Elkmont
In The Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Some call them fire flies, some call them lightning bugs but they're actually bioluminescent beetles, a species known to scientists as Photinus Carolinus, and one of their most spectacular light shows takes place each June at Elkmont in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Elkmont is just outside of Gatlinburg past the Sugar Lands Visitors Center towards Townsend.
The fireflies in the Smokies -- unlike most fireflies -- light up in unison. The synchronized display is actually a mating ritual in which the male attracts the female by flashing a yellow-green light twice per second, in timed bursts of four to eight flashes.
During their two-week mating ritual, the synchronous fireflies at Elkmont flash in unison. The insects begin their show later than most "lightning bugs," which light up at dusk. The synchronous fireflies start about 9:30 p-m. At first, the flashes are random, but they change to synchronized flashes that last six seconds, then go off for ten seconds before repeating.
The synchronous fireflies can take as many as two years to mature into adults from larvae. Once they’re all grown up, they only live for about 21 days, during which time they put on their show, and mate.
The show is put on completely by thousands, possibly millions, of fireflies during their mating season. It’s an amazing event to watch, the synchronized light display visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are treated to for a couple weeks this time of year. The synchronous firefly species — Photinus Carolinus — is one of 14 that live in the Park. It is the only species of firefly in the United States that is able to synchronize its lights. People come from all over to see it, and some even plan their entire vacation around it.
It is recommended visitors bring flashlights with red cellophane covers to reduce white light.
"No Parking" at the Little River Trailhead in Elkmont will be enforced. The Little River Trailhead parking area will be used to serve as a turn-around area for the trolleys.
Trolley service will be provided from the Sugar Lands Visitor Center bus/RV parking area on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 6 p.m. The last trolley to pick up visitors from the visitor center will be 9 p.m. or when the parking area is full. After 9 p.m., trolleys will only be taking visitors back from the Little River Trailhead to the visitor center. The last trolley to return to the visitor center will be at 11 p.m. each night.
Coolers and alcoholic beverages are prohibited. Visitors can bring lawn chairs, and carry food and water in backpacks, which can fit on their laps in the trolleys; there are no services available. Dogs/pets are not allowed on the trolleys or on the trail.
Starting at 5:30 p.m., the public will not be allowed to access the Elkmont Entrance Road, except for those camping at the Elkmont Campground. Park Rangers will be stationed at the intersection of Little River Road and the Elkmont Entrance Road to manage this restriction.