MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - We’ve all heard of -- and probably seen -- fireflies at some point in our lives. They’re the insects that come out in the evening, at night and early in the morning, appear to fly in place and occasionally “light up” greenish-yellow.
These insects are also referred to as lightning bugs, depending on who you’re talking to.
But have you ever heard of synchronous fireflies/lightning bugs? If not, you’re almost certainly not alone. Synchronous fireflies are not only very rare, but they are extremely difficult to photograph.
“They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns,” according to the National Park Service (NPS). Not only that, but they are only found in a few spots across the United States and the world!
One of those places happens to be parts of Alabama! Yep, right here in Alabama we have these incredible insects scattered about for just 1-2 weeks each year. That 1-2 week period is mating season, and typically comes between late May and mid-June.
Photographer Ron Burkett did the nearly impossible by capturing these synchronous fireflies in action in the Trussville area, which is just northeast of Birmingham.
You can see a few of his photographs here in this story. It almost doesn’t even look real. Each of those little “bulbs” of light is a synchronous firefly lighting up at the exact same time as all of the others nearby!
According to the National Park Service, each species of firefly has a characteristic flash pattern that helps its males and females essentially recognize each other. The males will typically be flying around flashing, awaiting a flash back from a nearly stationary female.
For these special synchronous fireflies, though, nobody is 100% sure why they all flash at the same time. The NPS says this regarding why this might occur:
“They all want to be the first to flash. Or perhaps if the males all flash together they have a better chance of being noticed, and the females can make better comparisons.”
The absolute best place to see these magical insects is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. However, they can be found in a few other locations like Allegheny National Forest, Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area, Congaree National Park, and in Southeast Asia.
As mentioned -- and photographed -- these synchronous fireflies can be found right here in wooded areas of Alabama for just about 10 days per year. It’s impossible to say when those dates will be, but for the next few days you might just get lucky!