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Grandfather Mountain to hold first-ever public viewings of Synchronous Fireflies

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Last Updated on May 2, 2022 12:14 pm

LINVILLE, N.C. – For the first time in the park’s history, Grandfather Mountain, the Linville, N.C., nature preserve operated by the nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, will be welcoming the public to witness first-hand the miraculous spectacle of its synchronous fireflies this summer.

Tickets for the viewing events, known as “Grandfather Glows: Bioluminescent Evenings on Grandfather Mountain,” go on sale May 23, with the viewing nights taking place June 26, 29 and July 1. Tickets will be sold on a first-come-first-serve basis, and only 200 tickets will be available for each nighttime viewing event.

As a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve­­­­­, Grandfather Mountain has long been known for its natural wonders and as a haven for more than 70 rare or endangered species. However, it was only recently discovered that a rare species of firefly, known as Photinus carolinus, occupied the mountain.

Those who have been fortunate enough to witness the phenomena of this firefly’s seemingly otherworldly mating ritual, in which the entire forest illuminates in flashing lights, have described it as one of the most significant experiences they have had in nature.

“I can count on one hand the times I’ve been left speechless by an event or occurrence in nature, and seeing the synchronous fireflies for the first time on Grandfather Mountain was one of them,” John Caveny, Director of Education and Natural Resources at the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, said.

While synchronous fireflies are known to exist in a handful of places around the world, including the Appalachian Mountains and parts of Southeast Asia, these peculiar insects were only discovered at Grandfather Mountain in 2019.

Clyde Sorenson, a professor at N.C. State University, happened upon the fireflies while staying at a private guest cottage on the mountain during a weekend when he was conducting a workshop. Much to his surprise, while he was taking a late night summer stroll through the woods, he was greeted by a brilliant lightshow. He was later able to confirm that these illuminating insects were in fact the rare synchronous firefly Photinus carolinus.

Although the official confirmation of the synchronous fireflies came just three years ago, others around the mountain have witnessed the lightshow and suspected the presence of the synchronous fireflies before. One such individual was seasonal employee Mikey Woodie, who first saw the fireflies when she and her fiancé at the time were watching a summer storm off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain. They happened to turn around, peer into the woods, and saw the forest lit aglow.

“One of the reasons this species has gone undetected for so long at Grandfather is that there are not a lot of people in the park at night,” Caveny said. “The security guards that are here tend to have their lights on, although one of them did call his wife one night to tell her about the lights. Others have witnessed the lights too, but they may not have realized what they were seeing.”

Overall, research on Grandfather Mountain has confirmed the presence of 10 to 12 species of fireflies or illumining insects, including Photinus carolinus, Blue Ghost fireflies, and Glowworms. Synchronous fireflies are habitat specialists and thrive in Northern Hardwood Forests, such as those found around the peaks of Grandfather Mountain, but are scattered across the landmass. The Grandfather Glows nighttime viewing events will take place on the lower half of mountain.

“The light show that the synchronous fireflies put on is actually a mating ritual,” Caveny said. “There is a call and response going on between the males and females of the species. The males are flying around, and the females are in the grass. One group of males will emit a flashing pattern as they try to find receptive females, and the females will respond by replicating that flashing pattern, which creates the synchronous effect.”

Tickets for Grandfather Glows go on sale Monday, May 23. The cost for adults is $60 and children are $35. For Bridge Club members, adult tickets are $51 and children’s tickets are $29. If Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation cancels an event due to adverse weather or conditions, a rain date will be provided immediately following the event date. The event lasts from 7 to 11 p.m.

Educational programs will be provided by the park’s naturalists from 7 p.m. until dark. Naturalists will be around during the event to answer questions and lead programs on fireflies, basic astronomy and the other night creatures at Grandfather Mountain. Red-light flashlights will be provided, and guests should come prepared for cool weather and with appropriate footwear for an evening on the mountain. Guests are also encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets, and to be prepared for a variety of the mountain’s weather and conditions. Food and drinks are permitted, though alcohol is prohibited.

To learn more about Grandfather Mountain’s synchronous fireflies, visit www.grandfather.com/fireflies.

The nonprofit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation strives to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather Mountain. For more information, visit www.grandfather.com.

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