Synchronous fireflies put on light show for visitors in Grandfather Mountain

2 July 2022

— Hundreds of people gathered in Grandfather Mountain Friday night to watch a unique show. It was quiet, except for the hum of excitement from people in the crowd.

This wasn’t the usual performance at a theater. The performers aren’t paid, and in fact, don’t even know they didn’t even know they were being watched that night. For them, it was another night outside. But for the guests on Grandfather Mountain, it was the experience of a lifetime.

“It’s definitely one of those things that’s just spectacular, it’s awe-inspiring,” said Director of Education and Natural Resources at Grandfather Mountain John Caveny. “I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve been held speechless by some occurrence in nature. Seeing the synchronous fireflies here at Grandfather is definitely one of those things.”

Grandfather Mountain hosted its very first “Grandfather Glows” firefly event after a species of synchronous fireflies were discovered in the mountains by a North Carolina State University scientist in 2019.

Locals in the area say that the synchronous fireflies have been in the area for as long as they could remember, but Clyde Sorenson was the first one to start studying them.

“What’s cool about them is that the males have a flash pattern where they flash about six times, and then they go dark for 6 to 8 seconds, and then they flash again,” Sorenson said. “So you’ll see flashing, then it goes dark, and they flash together.”

The purpose of their blinking is to communicate with one another and to attract female fireflies to mate.

Caveny said when Grandfather Mountain first posted tickets for the light show on their website, it crashed. After reposting the link on Eventbite, 900 tickets sold out within 10 minutes.

While Grandfather Mountain is collecting money from these tickets — $60 for adults who are not members — the program is more about helping people connect to the world around them.

“We kind of live by this motto — there’s an old saying that says, you will only conserve what you know and you will only know what you love. So it goes back to that. Providing these experiences we’ll build a greater appreciation and it’ll create a greater knowledge base,” Caveny said.

Sorenson has dedicated his career to studying fireflies, an insect he said has not been well-researched.

“Frankly, we have not had anybody doing a lot of detailed observation over a long period of time on all these species,” he said, “In fact, there’s so much we don’t know about the fireflies in North Carolina and it’s really kind of a crying shame. We need to do more work on them.”

The synchronous fireflies are in the peak during the late spring and early summer. Grandfather Mountain had hoped to bring visitors to the mountains after the species was discovered but waited two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Caveny said people from all across North Carolina, and even some in Virginia, came to the events that took place over the past couple weeks.

“Hopefully, the whole end goal for us, is that people come to attend this event and they can learn about the firefly species they learn about the conservation of these species. And they they go back home, whether that is in Raleigh or Charlotte or Virginia, and they can apply some of this stuff they learned so they can protect the firefly species at their home.”

To get tickets next year, you’ll have to sign up early. Stay updated through Grandfather Mountain’s newsletter.

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