Smoky Mountain Fire Ant Invasion

Fire ants have marched into Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Smoky Mountain Fire Ant Invasion is underway. This small intruder may pose huge problems in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Packing a powerful sting and an invasive history, fire ants are on the move in the mountains, according to research from the highlands Biological Station of western Carolina University.

Fire ants were accidentally introduced from South America in Mobile, Alabama sometime in the early 1930s. This invasive species has proven to be an efficient predator which not only feeds on, but also displaces native insects thus interrupting the food chain for native birds and wildflower pollinators.

Biologist once believed that fire ants could not survive in the higher elevations of southern Appalachia, but a recent study has disproved that theory.

This invasion comes with dire conservation implications for the forested mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Jim Costa, professor of evolutionary biology at Western Carolina University and executive director of Highlands Biological station. site of a 23-acre research lab, is quoted as saying “…although they will spread and be pests in urban, suburban and agricultural environments in our region, the biggest potential ecological impact of the ants persisting at higher elevations will be in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and especially the national forests…

Costa said disturbed soil and sunlight along U.S. Service forest roads, logged areas and power line cuts will provide a “toe-hold” for the insects allowing them to “wreak havoc” in adjacent forests.

According to Costa, the ants are adapting to colder winters. Colonies were found to survive at elevations over 4,000 feet and laboratory studies indicate that the ant’s ability to withstand cold is directly related to those collected from higher elevations, adding that those ants are proving to be far more cold hardy than their low-land cousins.

So, they are here to stay,” said Costa., “their ability to adapt is probably going to be aided by climate change as it gets warmer at higher elevations, but our study results suggest that even in a non-warming scenario they would continue to adapt and spread here.”

The expeditionary team encountered their first fire ant hill in Elkmont, GSMNP. If disturbed the ants aggressively defend their home. Multiple fire ant bites can be a very serious health risk to small children and pets. Like all wild animals and insects, it is always wise to keep a safe distance when you encounter fire ants. For more information about Smoky Mountain wildlife visit

Source material – PLOS ONE Journal

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Event Cancelled

Smoky Mountain firefly event canceled.

Smoky Mountain firefly event canceled.

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Event Cancelled. National Park officials announced the cancellation of the popular synchronous firefly event due to the continuing threat from the novel coronavirus (COVID -19). The cancellation is part of a continuing push to support federal, state and local efforts to contain the spread of the virus by following the most recent guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control(CDC).

The synchronous firefly viewing area at Elkmont simply isn’t spacious enough to safely allow hundreds of people to gather under the current health guidance,” said Superintendent Cash. “While disappointing, the safety of our employees, volunteers, and visitors continues to be our number one priority.

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Cades Cove Car Ban Ends

Cades Cove car ban is under way.

With the tunnel reopening the car ban comes to an end .

Cades Cove Car Ban Ends. Cades Cove has been closed for visitors for two months but that ends when the Laurel Creek Road (a seven-mile main access road from the Townsend Wye to Cades Cove) reopens this weekend on March 1, 2020. Motorists, bikers and hikers have been shut out of the cove since repair work began January 5th on the 1948-era Bote Mountain Tunnel. Most of the work is complete, but some intermittent single lane closures are scheduled between March 1 and June 15 to finish repairs on the vintage tunnel and to re-pave.

Closure at Cades Cove Campground continues through March 5. However Elkmont and Smokemont Campgrounds are open to winter campers.

Take time to enjoy the quiet of the Cove and get a little exercise!

Take time to enjoy the quiet of the Cove and get a little exercise!

Cades Cove has a rich history. For hundreds of years the Cherokee hunted in the cove. Archeologist have found no evidence of major settlements, and so it appears that it was just that – a hunting ground.

Dan Lawson heirlooms return to the Smokies.

Dan Lawson homesite.

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Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Event 2020

Firefly Events in the Smokies

Smoky Mountain synchronous fireflies should not be missed!

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Firefly Event 2020. It’s never to early to start making plans to see the Synchronous Fireflies (and the Blue Ghost Fireflies) that will light up the night sky in late May and early June 2020 in the Great Smoky Mountains. Firefly viewing in the Smokies has become such a popular event that there are now several venues available to enjoy the spectacular shows.

The Synchronous Firefly (Photinus carolinus) and the Blue Ghost Firefly (Phausis reticulata) are two species that are found only in the Southern Appalachian Mountains which include the Great Smokies. And during the short mating season in late May and early June, both firefly species put on quite a show to behold! The male Synchronous Firefliesflash their little green-yellow bioluminescent lanterns in unison for about 6-8 blinks and then they go dark for a few seconds creating a sublime wave of light throughout the forest. The male Blue Ghost Fireflies don’t flash their blue-white lanterns, instead they glow continuously just a few inches above the ground. The ethereal experience of either nighttime show should be on everyone’s bucket list!  National Park scientists mostly use air and soil temperatures to predict the timing of each year’s mating season.

Synchronous Fireflies with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
One of the most popular places to view the Synchronous Fireflies is in Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This event has become so popular that a free lottery system was instituted for parking passes for the eight-day shuttle period to Elkmont. During this time of peak viewing, Elkmont is closed at nighttime with the exception of shuttle users and campers in Elkmont Campground. Dates for the 2020 Lottery and Elkmont Shuttle will be announced sometime in April 2020. HeySmokies will keep you updated, so be sure to check back with us. We’ll provide you all the details of what you need to know to register for the lottery. For more information in the meantime, visit

Synchronous Fireflies with Discover Life in America in Gatlinburg, TN

For a few nights during peak firefly viewing time, Discover Life in America hosts a fundraising event featuring nightly presentations and field walks at the Norton Creek Sanctuary near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tickets for the event are $100 each and the event is geared toward persons ages 10 and older. For reservations for this exclusive event, call Discover Life in America at 865-430-4757 or email

Blue Ghost Fireflies in DuPont State Recreational Forest near Asheville, NC
DuPont State Forest is located in Cedar Mountain, NC about 30 miles outside of Asheville. Due to the popularity of this location in recent years, some of the trails in the High Falls parking area will be closed during peak viewing season. Because the female Blue Ghosts stay on the ground, many have been killed by visitors wandering off of the designated trails. For more information, visit DuPont State Forest.

Fireflies on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway are a great place to view starry nights as well as the fireflies in June! Usually the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center in Asheville offers a family-friendly firefly viewing event. For more information, visit Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center.

Grandfather Mountain

It’s glow time as the discovery of Synchronous fireflies light up Grandfather Mountain. grandfather mountain is in Linville, North Carolina.

Grandfather Mountain’s staff and experts expressed glowing enthusiasm for the recent discovery of Photinus carolinus, the only species of firefly in North America whose individuals can synchronize their lighting display (or flash in unison).

It was a serendipitous discovery on Grandfather Mountain. Dr. Claude Sorenson, an entomologist from North Carolina State University, was hosting a workshop on the mountain and spending the night in the park’s guest cottage near the Woods Walk when he decided to find out what type fireflies might call this high altitude home. When he saw a few fireflies about 9:30 p.m. Sorenson knew these were no ordinary ones. “As it got dark, the numbers steadily went up and between 10 and 10:30 p.m., there were several hundred all around the guest cottage and Woods Walk, flashing synchronously,” Sorenson was quoted as saying. He confirmed his findings with East Tennessee naturalist Lyn Faust, an expert on the subject who has written a field guide on fireflies. Sorenson referred to Faust as “one of the best resources for anyone who is interested in learning more about these critters.”

Synchronous behavior is rare in fireflies. According to Sorenson, there are only a handful of this particular species around the world that do this, and for a long time, the amazing spectacle of large numbers synchronizing has been associated with a few geographical areas that range from New York to Georgia.

Sorenson’s recent discovery was at 4,200 feet compared to the fireflies in Elkmont, GSMNP at 2,200 feet.  Grandfather’s elevation range begins at 3,000 feet and peaks at nearly 6,000 feet. At the top, where temperatures are colder, the fireflies flashed in slower cadence, reported Amy Renfranz, Grandfather Mountains’ director of education, speaking of survey observations near the park’s Mile High Swinging Bridge. During one survey, Franz noted more than 1,000 fireflies from one overlook.

Smoky Mountain Synchronous Fireflies

Smoky Mountain synchronous fireflies are amazing!

As a general rule, fireflies, at most locations, are active for about two to three weeks. Due to the great elevation span of Grandfather, the display could last longer, Franz said. The show could start at the bottom of the mountain in early June and continue well into July at increased elevations, providing a bonus for the scientific community as well as spectators.

Jesse Pope, president and executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, a non-profit organization that owns and operates the park, was excited about the news and said the discovery goes hand-in-hand with Grandfather Mountain’s mission to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value the wonders of Grandfather.  “That’s something that makes Grandfather Mountain so special, that a visitor could do the discovering,” Pope was quoted as saying.

The park staff is already preparing for next year’s light show, brought to you compliments of Mother Nature.

For more information on the fireflies or other interesting events on Grandfather Mountain, call 800-468-7325, or visit

Both firefly species are common in other areas of Southern Appalachia and just perhaps during the month of June, you stay outside until around 10:00 p.m. when it’s good and dark and you sit quietly, you may be surprised at the light show in your very own backyard!

HeySmokies loves fireflies! Photo credit - bizyb

HeySmokies loves fireflies! Photo credit – bizyb


Great Smoky Mountains National Park Bans Backcountry Campfires

Smoky Mountain campfire ban in effect.

Smoky Mountain backcountry campfire ban in effect.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park bans backcountry campfires. Park officials have placed the ban due to recent drought like conditions in the mountains and surrounding area. These conditions sharply increase the chances for wildfires starting and spreading. Backcountry visitors should expect the ban to remain in place until conditions change.

Only people enjoying trail shelters and backcountry campsites will be affected by this ban for now. Front country camp sites like Cades Cove, Cosby, Elkmont, and Smokemont are still allowed to use the fire rings at campsites. Picnickers can continue to enjoy charcoal grills for now also. Visitors are advised to use extreme caution with fire and always be sure and use water to extinguish them. The use of backpacking stoves with pre-packaged gas canisters is currently still allowed in the backcountry.

The park is experiencing abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions throughout the park,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “With little rain and hot, dry conditions predicted over the next week, it is imperative that we reduce the risk of human-caused wildfires.

Finding  drinking water may also be difficult for hikers and backpackers. Some locations that still have running springs have significantly reduced water flow. If flowing, a quart – sized bottle may take over five minutes to fill. The water sources at campsites 5, 16, 26  and Mollies Ridge Shelter are currently bone dry.

When entering the backcountry use your head and plan your route to maximize available water sources whenever possible. If you know you are heading into a dry area carry as much extra water as you can. Unseasonably high temperatures continue to dry out the region and heat stroke is a real possibility.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

  • Throbbing headache.
  • Dizziness and light-headedness.
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat.
  • Red, hot, and dry skin.
  • Muscle weakness or cramps.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
Source material AMA and GSMNP