Blink and you might miss ’em– the symbol of summer and childhood for so many of us. I’m talking about fireflies, lightning bugs… whatever you want to call them. I’m talking about the magical little creatures with twinkling butts that we spent so much time trying to trap in jars to formulate our own DIY night lights.
As summer comes to an end, these little guys don’t have much time left in the season. Before they huddle in furrowed bark for the colder weather, fireflies are making quite the impression in the Appalachia. In fact, tourists are flocking to the Great Smoky Mountains to watch thousands of fireflies light up the sky before it’s too late.
The Light Show of All Light Shows
Based on the migratory patterns of fireflies, this whole phenomenon only lasts a couple of weeks out of the year. For that reason, an estimated 1 million people travel to witness firefly-related phenomena every year. Currently, in the Great Smoky Mountains, thousands of tourists find themselves hiking into another world. Pick any fantasy world: Narnia, Avatar, etc. This beats them– or outshines them you could say. Actually, the park draws in so many people that they created a ticket lottery years ago to spread out passes more evenly across the population. Tourists come from all over the world, after all.
The tourists also take on all shapes, sizes, and ages ranging from newborns to the elderly. They’re all united in one common goal: to observe nature peacefully. A lot of them even bring lawn chairs and blankets to the park. The thing is, firefly watching takes some serious scout work and patience. Obviously, they’re easiest to see at dusk, but the little buggers move quicker than you think and sometimes what starts out as a good viewing area turns into a dud very quickly.
Check out this incredible photo from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service. It shows a previous migration of the fireflies doing what they do best. It will take your breath away and have you packing the car to get on down and experience it yourself.
The Tufts Study on Firefly Tourism in the Smoky Mountains and Elsewhere
A private Massachusetts university, Tufts University, just released a thorough study on the phenomena of firefly tourism and light. They discovered at least 12 different firefly species heading the boom in tourism. The study comes after some alarming statistics from the International Dark-Sky Association.
Apparently, a whopping 99% of people in the United States don’t have access to natural night anymore. We are simply too immersed in light pollution to notice. Think street lights, skyscrapers, traffic lights. Moreover, on a global scale, artificial light pollution is growing at a rate of 2% a year. Unfortunately, it also shows no signs of slowing. If you needed a sign to head out and explore the great outdoors and natural night, now might be the time.