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Steve Strogatz
Copeland in the Field
 

In1992, Lynn Faust of Knoxville, Tennessee read an article in Science News. The article, written by Mathematician Steven Strogatz of Cornell, explained the subject of synchronized flashing of the firelies (lightning bugs) known to exist in Southeast Asia.

Lynn was a bit disappointed that the fireflies near her home, in Elkmont, had not been mentioned, so she wrote a letter to Strogatz. In the letter she detailed the location and time of the phenomenon, then added greater detail of the display itself.

"I am sure you are aware of this, but just in case, there is a type of group synchrony lightning bug inside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Elkmont, Tennessee. These bugs "start up" in mid June at 10 pm nightly. They exhibit 6 seconds of total darkness; then in perfect synchrony, thousands light up 6 rapid times in a 3 second period before all going dark for 6 more seconds. "We have a cabin in Elkmont... and as far as we know, it is only in this small area that this particular type of group synchronized lightning bug exists. It is beautiful."

After reading the letter, Strogatz put Lynn in contact with Neuroethologist Jonathan Copeland of Georgia Southern University who decided to be present in Elkmont the following June to see if this was real. Much to his surprise, it was all very real, right down to the detailed timing described in Lynn’s letter. He was proud to announce to the science world that synchronous fireflies did indeed exist in the Western Hemisphere, at Elkmont, Tennessee!

Each year, usually between June 7th and June 14th, nature provides this beautiful, but unusual display. At first a few fireflies light individually and independently of each other. After a few moments, more of the little characters join in and they get organized; in no time, they’re lighting in unison!

The fireflies providing the show are P. Carolinus. They have a natural sensor that senses when another firefly has lit up, causing them to light in response. This happens simultaneously with other fireflies nearby.

Over the years, word of the fireflies of Elkmont has gotten around and more and more people are showing up to see it.

The show occurs between June 7th and June 14th.

Private vehicles are not allowed in the Elkmont entrance after 5 p.m. The trolley is the most reliable method of reaching the firefly show.

Gatlinburg provides a trolley service, roundtrip for one dollar, during that time. Visitors may board the trolley as early as 6 p.m. at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and it will take them to the Little River Trailhead at Elkmont. The trolley runs every 20-25 minutes and the last trolley back from Elkmont departs at 11 p.m.

Be sure to bring blankets or lawn chairs to sit on. Cover lawnchairs with red-colored cellophane to reduce the glare of the color white, which will interfere with the fireflies.

If trying to get photos, DO NOT use your flash! The light will disturb the fireflies.

Park Rangers and volunteers are onsite to assist you.

Absolutely no pets or alcoholic beverages are allowed.

Please enjoy the Following Video from YouTube.

 
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