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Blue Ghost Fireflies: When and Where To Find Them

blue ghost fireflies as imagined by AI

Blue Ghosts, Faerie Lanterns, Spirits of the Forest – No matter what you call them, these fireflies are one of the most magical night time experiences you will have the pleasure (and luck!) of seeing while visiting the Great Smokies.  Here’s are some tips to help you find the blue ghost fireflies.

Color Me Intrigued

The Blue Ghosts are one of the 19 known species of fireflies in the Great Smoky National Park, and by far, are the most unique. Most fireflies flash and blink, but these guys shine a sustained blue hue for up to one minute at a time while they zip around 18 inches to 3 feet in the air, casting a blue glow over the thick leaf litter and underbrush. This underbrush is where the gals hide and wait for their light patterns to match with a zoomy blue light from above. The female larvae’s light, coming up from the ground, is intensely white and can be seen from up to 10 feet away. What makes this light show even more impressive is that these fireflies are only ¼ inch long – they are the size of a literal grain of rice, making them one of the smallest fireflies in the world.

When and Where to Find the Blue Ghost Fireflies

The Blue Ghosts can be found in wooded areas from 2,000 to 4,200 feet elevation in the mountains and valleys of the Southern Appalachians and they have only two peak display times. April through late May is ideal to try to catch them at their thickest, between 9-9:30 pm. Starting in mid-June, during the second peak, the best viewing is between 9:30-11 p.m., due the later sunsets. This is also perfect camping time here in the beautiful Smokies!

Keep in mind that these little fireflies are not widespread, but rather live in various pockets around the mountains.  Finding them is part of the challenge, but one that is well worth attempting.

Tips for Success!

Some tips to help increase your chances of finding and experiencing this magic during the peak times are to try on nights with little or no moon (ie: waning and waxing crescents or new moons) – this goes for you as well, use little to no light – darkness is key. Also, there’s usually not much action when temperatures are lower than 50 degrees F and light rain is OK, but they are no match for heavy rain. Please never attempt to catch them, or walk through the wooded beds they inhabit.

So much of our area provides the old growth and mature forests, the undisturbed clusters between the trees, and thick, healthy leaf litter carpeted forest floor to create the ideal home during the short mating period of this mysterious little creature. While deciding where to stay in the Great Smokies, consider that the Cataloochee Valley is one of the few places to witness the Blue Ghosts perform life before your very eyes – imagine a cosmos of light and movement, in real time.  Photos and video can be amazing, but no flash photography!  This is definitely one of those lifetime experiences that you merely witness in awe, with no need to interfere.