I see a light in the distance,

It is a small light.

On, off, on, off,

Never stopping.

I try to get closer,

It flies away.

Someone says,

“put the light in a glass jar.”

Someone says,

“That’s cruel.”

I say,


It’s a light,

Just a light.”

Someone says, “not just a light,

it’s a synchronous firefly!”

I belong to the beetle family. Some of you might call me a lightning bug. I live in the forests in the western Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, USA, and the eastern part of the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, USA. Seek me out in cove forests (dense valleys between ridgelines) near a small stream and an undisturbed forest floor covered with fallen leaves. You will never find me in developed areas or areas with any amount of lamination.  My home is in the deep, dark forest. My life begins as larvae and during this stage I feed on small insects and snails. After one or two years I reach maturity, stop eating, and become a synchronous firefly. This is when my life changes completely; people from all over pour into the forest to see the enchanting light show put on by other male synchronous fireflies and me. We fly between 2 and 6 feet above the ground displaying synchronous flashes to attract females. Depending on the temperature and moisture in the soil, this will occur any time between the middle of May and the latter part of June. Usually though, it takes place the last two weeks of May and the first two weeks of June. My life span as an adult is approximately 21 days, but these are busy and important days if my species is to survive. I flash, I mate, and I die. The female stays on the ground (she cannot fly) where she gives faint flashes, mates, lays eggs, and dies. My life is completed.

If you are interested in viewing the synchronized firefly, the best way to see this breath-taking display of flashing illimitation is on one of several guided tours. The Elkmont Campground in Smoky Mountains National Park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is probably the most popular one. Because of the tremendous annual response, the park has instituted a lottery system for reserved places. If you do not have one of the lottery spots, you will be turned away. There is a guided tour also out of Ashville, North Carolina. This one sells out six months or more in advance each year. All the guided tours require some moderate hiking at night. At times, it will be pitch black in the forest. Certain environmental factors will cancel the tour because the fireflies may not flash. This could occur on cool nights when temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Earlier in the day if it rained and the evening is misty there is no guarantee the light show will take place. When there is a bright moon, the firefly show will start later than on crescent moon nights.

This light show is just another phenomenon of the wonders of nature God has provided for our enjoyment.


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