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Thousands of Fireflies Lighting Up the Great Smoky Mountains

Lottery applications for the incredible natural phenomenon open April 28. Every year in late May or early June, Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes alive with thousands of fireflies that flash synchronously to create a magnificent light show. For visitors looking to catch the sparkling natural phenomenon, park officials have just announced the dates for this year's viewing at the Elkmont Campground. Interested travelers can apply using the national park service’s lottery system from Friday, April 28 to Monday, May 1 for the May 30 to June 6 viewings.

There will be a total of 1,800 vehicle passes available through the lottery, and winners will be selected through a randomized computer drawing. The park service introduced limited shuttle service, which will transport visitors from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to the campground during the eight days of the showing, back in 2006 to limit traffic congestion and provide a safe viewing experience. Though there’s no charge to apply for the lottery, winners will be charged a $2.75 reservation fee after being notified of their success by May 10 via e-mail.

While the park is home to at least 19 species of fireflies, the photinus carolinus are the only ones that can synchronize their flashing light patterns. The lightning bugs, which are actually beetles, use the flashing pattern as a mating display, though no one is quite sure why this species synchronizes their flashes. Some say it could be competition between the male fireflies, or because the males believe they have a greater chance of being noticed if they all flash together. Either way, the multi-hour display looks magical in the dark skies of the park. The fireflies flash a series of five to eight yellow lights, sometimes in unison as they create waves, and other times randomly in short bursts.