Brilliant Natural Show in National Forest

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Jennifer Szweda Jordan July 2, 2012

There’s a different kind of Christmas in July happening in the Allegheny National Forest these evenings: fireflies are lighting up in sync.

“I guess the best way to describe them is a string of Christmas lights, flashing on and off at the same time,” said Peggy Butler, who along with her husband owns the Black Caddis Ranch Bed and Breakfast in the forest.

The phenomenon occurs among certain species of lightning bug beetles. It is rare, but not unique to this area. Other spots where fireflies sync up their lights are in the Smoky Mountains, and in parts of Asia.

Lynn Faust, a Knoxville, TN, resident who’s been researching the fireflies’ brilliant behavior for the U.S. Forest Service, has visited the Allegheny National Forest. She said the displays are all about sex — it’s a mating ritual.  She also said the little beetles seem to carry wristwatches, because the displays happen at the same time each night. Near Butler’s B&B, the show starts around 10:30 PM.

Butler has been taking guests to look at the fireflies. The short-lived rhythmic lightup ritual primarily took place last week.

“They’re trying to attract females, and once the female answers back, you’ll see them drop out of the sky and into the branch or wherever,” Butler said. “Sometimes it looks like shooting stars.”

The firefly show is a tourist attraction in the Smoky Mountains. Butler said she hopes people consider it when making early summer plans in the future.

“There are a lot of reasons to come,” she said, “but here’s another one that’s just fun.”