‘Everybody is mesmerized by them’: Synchronous and blue ghost fireflies light up Tennessee state park

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UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – For a few weeks every year, you can find Rocky Fork State Park lit up by special kinds of fireflies. The park has about 17 breeds of fireflies, but synchronous fireflies and blue ghost fireflies are some of the rarest.

“Once thought to only be in the Smokies, now we’re finding them more and more places throughout Southern Appalachia,” Rocky Fork Park Manager Tim Pharis said.

Some say the fireflies that blink synchronously look almost like Christmas Lights.

“It’s made some people cry, some people giggle, but everybody is mesmerized by them,” Pharis said.

Pharis said the fireflies are an attraction that draws people from all over.

“We came to do something that I never even heard of three, four weeks ago,” Kingsport resident Chuck Turner said. “It’s going to be very spectacular.”

“I saw lightning bugs out growing up, but I did not know about the synchronous ones,” Kim Litz said.

“I’m very excited, this is a special occasion,” Brayden Paulk said. “I’ve never seen blue fireflies, and I’ve never seen synchronized.”

The blue ghost fireflies glow with a dim blue light and stay lit up longer than a regular firefly.

Credit: Tim Pharis, Rocky Fork State Park

“They are about a third of the size of the fireflies you see in your back yard,” Pharis said “These little guys keep their light on for up to a minute sometimes.”

“Blue ghosts are like my favorite,” Colt Miller, a seasonal interpretive recreator at Rocky Fork State Park, said. “The synchronous are obviously like more the star of the show, but the blue ghosts are kind of a little underrepresented.”

Whether it’s for the first time, or the last time, Tim Pharis said seeing the rare fireflies is something that doesn’t get old.

“I thought it was a somewhat life changing event,” Pharis said. “I wait all year long for these firefly programs.”

Rocky Fork State Park is a day use park, those interested in seeing the fireflies have to go through park programs to enter a lottery system.

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