The stunning synchronous firefly event occurs in late May and early June, but it can now be viewed online in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
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If you've ever wanted to see thousands of fireflies illuminate the night at once, head down to the Great Smoky Mountains. Visitors can enter the Elkmont area, a large campground in Tennessee, where the largest population of synchronous fireflies live. Beginning at the end May and continuing into early June, the fireflies will begin their mating ritual in the national park, which involves synchronizing their flash patterns. Though in-person viewings have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, a nonprofit organization called Discover Life in America will host a virtual event on YouTube on June 1.

Firefly Festival
Credit: Recreation.gov

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to 19 different firefly species, including the Photinus carolinus, which is the only synchronous firefly species that exist in the United States. According to the National Park Service, fireflies take from one to two years to mature from larvae, but will live as adults for only about 21 days. Each species of firefly has a unique flash pattern that helps the males and females to recognize each other. The males flash while they fly around stationary females, who respond to the mating call with their own flash.

At first, the mating ritual is slow with just a few fireflies flashing their lights but over the course of a couple of weeks, thousands of flies will join and share their glow with park visitors, according to House Beautiful. "There's only a handful of species all around the world that do this, and for a long time, this particular species, the phenomenon of seeing large numbers of them synchronizing has been associated tightly with just a couple geographical areas," said Dr. Clyde Sorenson, an entomologist from North Carolina State University.

The park was originally waiting to set a specific date for the festival while scientists predicate the peak mating time for the fireflies, which depends on temperature and soil moisture. However, because the lottery for vehicle passes was closed and the in-person event canceled following the beginning of coronavirus pandemic, you'll now be able to watch the entire event from the comfort of your own home. Firefly photographer Radim Schreiber is helping Discover Life in America hold the event online, and you can begin watching on Monday at 8 PM.

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