So, what does the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Malaysian jungle have in common? Synchronous fireflies, that’s what! Currently there are 2000+ species of fireflies in the world, and I am fortunate enough to live in one of two areas of the world that have these phenomena once a year in early June. Depending on winter weather, it can be from mid May to mid June, so check before making lodging reservations. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will list the dates at this link. Synchronous fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, blink in unison or in waves. You’re sitting there in complete darkness and they all blink on and off at the same time. At times it is like a wave of light moving across a clearing. This is called phase synchronization or spontaneous order. I know I’d like to glow and have a little spontaneous order in my office, but I’m afraid I just don’t have the right genes along with the other 1998+ species.
Much varies between these firefly beetles. Some blink, some don’t. Some fly, some don’t. The color of their bioluminescence ranges from yellow to orange to red to green. Usually it is the male blinking to attract females during mating season, but then you have those femme fatales that blink the pattern of another species to attract unsuspecting males for the ultimate act of cannibalism. This link at wikipedia has a great article on them and much has been written locally, particularly from The Daily Times. Their last article was Sunday, May 26, 2013.
So, how do you see them? In years past, you just drove your car up to the Elkmont Campground area and hiked back on some old weed covered gravel roads. That’s what my mom and I did. However it became so popular that you now have to catch a shuttle from the Sugarlands Visitor Center outside of Gatlinburg. Wait time and lines got long enough that the National Park now allows shuttles from the Townsend area too, and you buy your ticket ahead of time.
Don Alexander at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center (865-448-8838) says, sales open up May 1st each year at 10AM and tickets are a $1.00. This year they sold out in 45 minutes. It’s not often you can experience something magical for a buck. The ultimate cheap date, and you get to sit on a blanket in the dark! They run two shuttles a night from Townsend that hold 18 passengers each for a week to ten days. If you don’t use your $1.00 ticket, which really is a placeholder, your credit card is charged $10.00 for each unused ticket.
These shuttle buses from the Cades Cove Heritage Tours cost a lot more than $18.00 a night to run and this year they were underwritten by, who else, Townsend’s Firefly Café and the Blount Partnership! You catch the bus at their restaurant location, 7967 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Townsend, TN 37882, (865-738-3507) between 6:30PM and 7:00PM. The buses return to the same location around 11:30PM each night. Have dinner at the Firefly before you catch the shuttle.
Deborah Lee, owner of the Firefly Café, has been a restaurant owner in Townsend for years. Her new location, now in its second year, gets an A+ for décor, service and food. My favorite is the Elkmont Burger, and they have the best French fries in town. Deborah says, “I called it the Firefly Café because I absolutely love the synchronous fireflies of the Smokies, and that they generate their light from within.” I’m off to create a little spontaneous order. Not! mizkathleen@ Gracehill Bed and Breakfast