For two weeks, each year, the secluded forests of Elkmont is converted into a magical wonderland.
Words can’t describe the experience, but let me try. As we venture into the forests, a light drizzle along with the cool breeze accompanies. Smokies as the name has it, brings in a rolling fog as the dusk sets in. After finding a remote spot by the trees and set the camera for a composition I liked, it was time to wait. Not long before the horizon begins to darken and the first of the fireflies beings to twinkle. Here a twinkle, there a twinkle and before you know it - everywhere a twinkle. The entire forest begins to glow, and then as if all lights are off, becomes pitch dark. After couple of seconds, the entire place is lit up once again. There fireflies surround you in its mythical glow. The thousands of lightning bugs gather in swarms and flash in harmony as the entire forest alternates between light and darkness. It truly becomes a magical wonderland.
The show is all made possible - thanks to Photinus carolinus – or more commonly known as Synchronous fireflies. Unlike other fireflies, this species uses the synchronicity of the flashing, probably to attract it’s mate. Synchronous species of fireflies are very special—and they exist only in a handful of places throughout the world. Elkmont @ Smokies is one such place. Fireflies combine the chemical luciferin and oxygen with the enzyme luciferase in their lanterns (part of their abdomens) to make light. The light produced is referred to as a "cold" light, with nearly 100% of the energy given off as light. In contrast, the energy produced by an incandescent light bulb is approximately 10% light and 90% heat. So much for our human invention !
No one is sure why the fireflies flash synchronously. Competition between males might be one reason: they all want to be the first to flash. Or perhaps if the males all flash together they have a better chance of being noticed. What ever the reason – it indeed is magical & Here is my take on the magical experience. Hope you like watching the same as much as I enjoy capturing it.
Tips to Viewing the Fireflies
Elkmont is Part of the Smoky National Park.
Lottery : Starting this year (2016), NPS has introduces Lottery. You need to be on the look out @ the NPS Website and apply during registration period. If you are lucky and get selected, you would need to drive up to Sugarlands Visiter Center on the allocated date. Around 6:30 PM local time the trolley takes to the viewing area. The Trolley / shuttle runs thru 11:30 PM so you will have ample time to experience the fireflies. You can read more about the lottery here.
Campground : Don’t lose heart , if you do not get the lottery. The next best thing (or actually an even better option) is to get a camp site at the Elkmont Campground. This gets you within a mile of the Elkmont Viewing area. Additionaly learnt, one more huge advantage is the you could hike up the entire trail to avoid the crowds, much beyond the set area for lottery viewing. Just make sure to carry the campground reservation.
But you are warned, Elkmont campground is one of the most famous ones, thought it has only the basic facilities. You need to book a spot months before, or need to keep check every other for a cancellation to pop up, like it did :)
Be sure to follow the Fireflies Etiquette.
Do remember you are visiting them in their natural habitat, not the other way around. Take every step need to ensure they are not disturbed.