Warming temps disrupt delicate cycles involving plants, insects and birds
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — If you miss this year’s synchronized firefly display in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can blame it on freakishly warm spring weather, perhaps linked to predicted weather extremes caused by global warming.
Because of the unseasonably warm spring, the synchronized fireflies in the park are displaying earlier than ever recorded, according to park officials.
Fireflies are in trouble as it is, with habitat loss and artificial night lighting cited as the main threats to their survival by Firefly.org. A rapidly changing climate probably won’t help their chances, as the timing of larval emergence and the blooming of plants the insects depend on changes.
The shuttle service to the event site is still scheduled to take place from June 2-10 for ticketed reservation holders. Park biologists are predicting that there may still be some activity during the weekend of June 2nd, but the display will be past peak and may taper off significantly well before the following weekend. Those with reservations are being advised of the possibility that the display will not be as good as in previous years.
This early showing has prompted the Park to close the Elkmont entrance road to motor vehicles and pedestrian use every evening from Wednesday, May 30-Sunday, June 10. Only registered campers staying at the Elkmont Campground will be allowed to access the road.
The Park had set aside 25 parking passes aside to make available the day before the event though www.recreation.gov. These passes may be withdrawn depending on the activity of the fireflies. Please visit www.recreation.gov for current status on these passes.
The popularity of the annual firefly event has made it necessary to close access to the Elkmont viewing area to protect park resources and visitor experiences. This closure requires the availability and coordination of a large number of park staff and the shuttle service provider.
The event is generally scheduled based on the recorded timing of firefly appearances in the past years, but Spring 2012 was uncharacteristically warm and made it difficult to accurately predict well in advance. Due to the logistics involved, the Park does not have the flexibility to switch the event operations forward or backwards to match the peak firefly activity.
NPS background on fireflies
Synchronous fireflies (Photinus carolinus) are one of at least 19 species of fireflies that live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns.
Fireflies (also called lightning bugs) are beetles. They take from one to two years to mature from larvae, but will live as adults for only about 21 days. While in the larval stage, the insects feed on snails and smaller insects. Once they transform into their adult form, they do not eat.
Their light patterns are part of their mating display. Each species of firefly has characteristic flash pattern that helps its male and female individuals recognize each other. Most species produce a greenish-yellow light; one species has a bluish light. The males fly and flash and the usually stationary females respond with a flash. Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the park is normally within a two-week period in early to mid-June.
Filed under: biodiversity, climate and weather, Environment, global warming, national parks, public lands, seasons Tagged: | climate, fireflies, global warming, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, insects