Ever wanted to meet Tinker Bell? How about Smoky Mountain fairies — aka synchronous fireflies? Okay, we might be stretching a tiny bit here…but if you’ve never seen these incredible fairy-like creatures perform in person, you can’t pass judgment. Enchanting to say the least, the synchronous fireflies of the Smokies are kind of a big deal, illuminating the night forest in unison! You even need to win the annual firefly lottery to view them up close (details below).
Coordinated by Mother Nature herself, this brilliant (family-friendly) show occurs annually around the end of May to the middle of June in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Start your summer with a trip to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, TN, to view nature in a whole new light and take home a spectacular experience you’ll not soon forget!
The Synchronous Show
Unlike your average backyard firefly that seems to flicker at random in an attempt to thwart your catching efforts or discredit your firefly spotting skills, the synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) captivates us all with a dazzling show.
Like clockwork (starting around 9:00 p.m.), the males swarm and flash 4-8 times in the air before going dark for a short period (up to 1 minute). During this time, the females respond to the mating ritual with lighter, and much softer, flashes lower to the ground before the males continue their light display.
With their sole purpose to find a mate, their sincere efforts continue each night for approximately 2 weeks, creating a limited window to see their sensational synchronous show. At any point during the showtimes, females will choose the male of their dreams.
While 1,000s of adult fireflies do perish after this annual event completes, they leave this world in style, bringing forth the next generation of synchronous performers!
Synchronous Firefly Facts
- Meadows are not their favorite place; they prefer cove forests!
- “I’m not actually a fly, nor do I produce fire. I’m a beetle with a bioluminescent booty!”
- Their abdominal organ (specifically the lantern) produces light with almost 0 heat.
- Photinus carolinus is the first North American firefly found to synchronize.
- They mature for 1-2 years, then live as adults for roughly 21 days.
- If it’s too cold (below 50°F) or wet, the synchronous show won’t go on…
Great Smoky Mountains Firefly Show!
How to See the Synchronous Fireflies
Due to the increasing number of viewers visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see the synchronous firefly show each year, the park service instituted a lottery system in 2006. Although 21,000 entered, only 1,800 were allowed into the park during the peak synchronous firefly viewing season in 2018.
What does this mean for YOU? Well, the first step towards seeing the synchronous firefly show in 2021 is to enter the GSMNP firefly lottery with a $1 application fee. Entering earlier or later will not affect your chances of winning. Just be sure to enter before the cut-off! All applicants will be notified if they won or lost the firefly lottery when the results are released.
Firefly Lottery Opens: April 30 (Fri) — 10:00 a.m. (EST)
Firefly Lottery Closes: May 3 (Mon) — 11:59 p.m. (EST)
Firefly Lottery Results: May 7 (Fri)
Firefly Event Date: June 1-8 (Tues – Tues)
Winners will need to pay a $24 reservation fee for parking confirmation, viewing supplies, and personnel costs. The event will be held in the Elkmont viewing area within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There may also be a $2 cash fee per person for a round-trip ticket to board the shuttle at the Sugarlands Visitor Center (located on US-441, about 2 miles south of Gatlinburg).
Respect the Synchronicity
- Cover your flashlight with cellophane (red or blue).
- Keep your flashlight off when viewing.
- Point your flashlight to the ground when walking.
- Make no attempts to catch the fireflies.
- Never leave the designated trails.
- Be sure to take everything you brought into the park home.
Spot Synchronous Fireflies from Your Cabin!
After staying up late for the sparkly show, you’ll greatly appreciate the comforts of your own cabin rental in the Great Smoky Mountains. Soak in the bubbly hot tub, unwind with a cold one in the rocking chairs, shoot pool with friends, chat about the night’s performance on the sofas, enjoy midnight munchies from the fully equipped kitchen, tuck the kiddos into the bunk beds, bathe in the indoor jetted tub, and drift to dreamland in a king-size bed.
Even if you don’t win the GSMNP lotto, who knows? Maybe you’ll spot synchronous fireflies (ahem, fairies) from your Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg cabin! After all, they’re not limited to 1 area. In fact, there are multiple reports of synchronous sightings elsewhere in and around the Smokies each year…maybe yours will be the next!
Plan your Smoky Mountain getaway today and enter the GSMNP synchronous firefly lottery this April 2019 — fingers crossed!