Many nature lovers enjoy the splendor of the mountains, streams, and animals. But the synchronized firefly, even though very small, can be incredibly awe-inspiring. Some call them fireflies, others lighting bugs, whatever name you wish to use they are actually beetles. They pose no threat to humans, in fact, they have been useful in medical and scientific research. Of over 1,800 species of fireflies, we are interested the synchronous ones. There are two species of synchronous that are well known; the Photinus Carolinus and the Snappy Syncs. The Smoky Mountain National Park is well known for the Photinus Carolinus. The Snappy Syncs are well known from the Congaree National Park. Both parks have a lottery system for viewing the fireflies. There is now private property in Knox County for viewing the Snappy Syncs.
The main difference is the way the two synchronized firefly species flash. The pattern for Photinus Carolinus in Elkmont are six or seven flashes followed by darkness of about six seconds, and they repeat the process throughout the evening. Snappy Syncs flash about 70 times per minute in unison without any periods of darkness.
At Molly Branch Fireflies, we are interested in three species:
-Photinus Frontalis (Snappy Syncs)
-Phausis Reticulata (Blue Ghosts)
-Photuris Hebes (Heebie Jeebies)
Snappy Syncs and Photinus Carolinus are the only fireflies in the U.S. that are synchronous.
Elkmont's firefly showing began to gather the attention of the viewing public in the late 1990's. The growing interest required the Smoky Mountain National Park to restrict traffic leading to the current lottery system. It's reported there are other very remote viewing areas in the park.
Another known place to observe Photinus Carolinus is in the Allegheny National Forest. In 2012 a colony of these fireflies was discovered and more research is continuing.
Photinus Frontalis (Snappy Syncs)
The second species of synchronous fireflies is Photinus frontalis also known as Snappy Syncs. They majorly differ, however, in their viewing experience. Instead of having periods of synchronized flashing and then breaks in between, the Snappy Syncs have a continual synchronized flashing period, often blinking 70 times per minute.
Documenting locations for Snappy Syncs is increasing. In 2015 researchers working for the Oakridge Wildlife Management Area discovered an abundant population of Snappy Syncs in various locations within the dense old growth forest. The only problem with this discovery is it is not open for public viewing for security reasons.
Another known spot to view Snappy Syncs is the Congaree National Park in Hopkins, SC. They also now have a lottery. But there you can park within a 1/4 mile of the boardwalk. The only problem here is you can't take blankets or chairs because it is on a boardwalk over a swamp.
A new choice is Molly Branch on private property in East Knox County, TN. This site has been documented by Lynn Faust author of Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs and by researchers Paul Shaw and Gerry Middleton from the Oakridge Wildlife Management Area as a significant find.
You can learn more on our About Us page.
Phausis Reticulata (Blue Ghosts)
A firefly species native to the Southern Appalachians and characterized by their long continuous periods of flashes. Their strong blue glow is what gives them their name. They can be viewed at Molly Branch Fireflies and in the Smoky Mountains National Park.
Photuris Hebes (Heebie Jeebies)
Although this is not a synchronous or a long flashing firefly, this species can be an incredible sight, especially when in a large group. This species has a very quick flash and then a space of about 3-5 seconds before flashing again. In large groups of Heebie Jeebies, one can look out and see "twinkling."
More Information On Fireflies
It should be known that almost all of the flying and flashing fireflies are the males. They are flashing in order to mate with the females on the ground, who are flashing back in response.
Fireflies are actually carnivorous beetles, and they eat snails, worms, and slugs.
There are a few requirements for fireflies to survive in a habitat:
-An area with low light.
-An area with a thick underbrush or a thick forest floor (such as a high amount of leaves on the floor).
-An area with a lot of moisture for both the fireflies and their prey.
One recent problem that is threatening fireflies is light pollution. With human development increasing, light pollution “leaks” more and more into the area. This light pollution makes it more difficult for the females to see the males. Another problem is a loss of habitat. As forests are turned into city spaces, the fireflies lose more room that they could live in.
If you want to help, you can do so by trying to limit the light pollution around your house at night by turning off outside lights. Also, let some of your grass grow taller, which makes for a nicer habitat for the fireflies.