Special fireflies put on synchronized light show in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

Some very special fireflies have been spotted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — and they look more like a choreographed light show, rather than a swarm of bugs. The synchronous fireflies can synchronize their flashing light patterns with each other, according to the National Park Service.

They were spotted on Grandfather Mountain, in western North Carolina, by Dr. Clyde Sorenson, an entomologist from North Carolina State University, CBS affiliate WJHL reports. Sorenson saw several hundred synchronous fireflies when he spent the night in the park's guest cottage.

"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," Sorenson said in a press release.

Visitors carrying red flashlights walk the Little River Trail to observe synchronous fireflies in their annual mating ritual in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's Elkmont Campground outside Gatlinburg, Tenn. on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. ADAM LAU / AP

"The species goes all the way from New York to Georgia. Where they have been most widely known and recognized for so long is at Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park," Sorenson said. While the fireflies are normally seen on Elkmont, which is at 2,200 feet, Sorenson saw them at a much higher elevation — Grandfather Mountain is at 4,200 feet.

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Sorenson confirmed his findings with Lynn Faust, an East Tennessee naturalist who's written a book about fireflies. Park staff is now trying to organizing future viewing events so people can see the the synchronous fireflies' light show, WJHL reports.

There are least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, according to the National Park Service. This species is the only one in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.

Synchronous fireflies normally appear in the park during a two-week period, from late May to mid-June.

Fireflies, which are actually beetles, use their lights as a mating display. Each species has a special flash pattern that helps the males and females recognize each other. While the males fly around and flash their lights, the females usually stay stationary, then respond with a flash of their own. Most species produce a greenish-yellow light, but one produces a blue light.

First published on August 29, 2019 / 12:18 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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