The greatest light show this summer isn’t at some music festival or art gallery, it’s in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The organization just announced the dates for its annual synchronous fireflies event, which will see huge swarms of lightning bugs light up the area with a spectacular show after the sun goes down. The annual event is so popular that space is limited.
This year, the synchronous fireflies event, during which the insects will flash their lights in a dazzling synchronized pattern, will take place from May 30 to June 6, according to Recreation.Gov. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has organized a shuttle service from Sugarlands Visitor Center to take attendees to the Elkmont viewing area to see the fireflies’ display. This event is pretty exclusive, meaning you can’t just pass through and stop to check it out.
As Recreation.Gov explains, visitors who wish to see the synchronous fireflies event must obtain a parking pass. Parking is limited in the area, as is shuttle capacity. To score a pass, hopeful attendees must enter a lottery and cross their fingers. The lottery opens on April 26 at 8am ET, and closes April 29 at 8pm ET. Results will be announced May 10, giving lucky lottery winners ample time to plan their trip. Attendees will have to pay a $25 vehicle fee upfront and an additional $2 per person when boarding the shuttle, so be sure to have cash on hand for that.
If you’re wondering what’s so special about synchronous fireflies, you’re probably not alone. Unless you’re an entomologist, you likely didn’t even know there were different species of fireflies, let alone 19 of them. Synchronous fireflies are special because they can synchronize their flashing lights, according to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s page dedicated to the pretty bugs.
The insects’ light patterns are part of a mating ritual, which helps males and females spot one another. Evidently privacy is a non-factor in the firefly community. Peak mating season for synchronous fireflies lasts about two weeks, and the dates vary each year. Scientists do their best to predict the dates based on temperature and soil moisture levels. What we’re saying is, how spectacular the display really is depends a lot on science and trial and error. Some nights may be more lit than others.
There are very few rules when it comes to this event. The park asks that attendees cover flashlights in blur or red cellophane and turn them off entirely once they’ve found a spot to watch the fireflies do their thing. Additionally, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park asks that those in attendance not try to catch the fireflies -- save that for your own backyard.
It’s not every day nature puts on such a spectacular display, so if you can you should definitely apply for the lottery and check it out. You won’t be able to snag a picture for Instagram, but you’ll have a pretty exciting memory and that’s cool, too.