Luminescent bugs put on a show at Conagaree National Park
In an annual rite of spring, the synchronous, or synchronized, fireflies have arrived at Congaree National Park.
Volunteers Wednesday saw “intermittent fireflies activity” along the Fireflies Trail, according to the park’s website.
“There seemed to be two ‘peaks’ occurring at 8:20 p.m. to 8:40 p.m. and again around 9:15 p.m.,” the website said. “One observer noticed a good number of fireflies showing synchronous behavior where the boardwalk intersects Sims Trail, but otherwise all observers last night saw mostly small groups of fireflies showing synchronous behavior.”
For most of the spring and summer, fireflies light at different times, creating a twinkling effect in the deep forests of the park. But beginning in May, for about two weeks, fireflies light up at the same time, performing a luminescent dance. The bugs were the inspiration for the name of the city’s minor league baseball team, the Columbia Fireflies.
Scientists say the synchronized blinking is part of a mating ritual found at Congaree and at a handful of other places around the country, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Of the 2,000 species of fireflies, only three show synchronous mating behavior, according to the park service.
The small groups spotted Wednesday indicate that the synchronous fireflies display might begin in the next few days, the park said, but noted “many variables that make an exact prediction impossible.”
But in anticipation, the park’s Fireflies Festival will begin May 10.
During this year’s event the Harry Hampton Visitor Center will be open until 10 p.m. nightly from May 10 through May 27. The best time to view the fireflies is just after dark, usually between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The park will have a designated Fireflies Trail, to give visitors access to prime viewing areas. The trail starts at the picnic shelter and winds under the boardwalk to the visitor center.
Only visitors with mobility issues will be allowed on top of the boardwalk.
Parking will be limited. So Columbia’s The COMET bus service will run a shuttle from the S.C. State Fairgrounds on Rosewood Drive to the park from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. May 24 to May 27. Cost is $2 each way.
For the latest on the fireflies, see Congaree National Park’s website. For information on the scientific research of fireflies at the park, be sure to visit the Old Growth Bottomland Forest Research and Education Center’s fireflies page.
Here are other tips from the park service:
Because of the large numbers of visitors, these items are prohibited: dogs, strollers, wagons, headlamps, chairs, hammocks and blankets.
Flash photography is prohibited. Please apply insect repellant before arriving at the park.
Only use flashlights when absolutely necessary, pointing them straight down so as to not disturb other visitors. Small penlights are recommended. Don’t use your smart phone as a flashlight.
And visitors are asked to follow viewing etiquette:
▪ Keep noise levels to a minimum.
▪ Don’t try to catch the fireflies.
▪ Stay on the designated trail.
▪ Wear sturdy, close-toed shoes.
Other important information:
▪ Parking is very limited. Carpool when possible. Bus and oversize vehicle parking will be very limited, so please plan to drop off passengers and have a set time to return to the park to pick them up. Parking for oversize vehicles is not guaranteed.
▪ Be prepared for the weather. Thunderstorms are frequent in the evenings in May.
▪ Back country campers will only be able to use the Kingsnake Trail at the South Cedar Creek Canoe Landing. Back country campers vehicle must park at the lot at that site.
▪ Visitors wanting to camp in the back country must have a permit.