Written by Danielle Taylor | Photos by Radim Photo
For a few weeks every June, the hills, valleys, forests, and fields of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region come alive with light, playing host to one of Mother Nature’s most enchanting phenomena. Millions of fireflies here set off each evening on a nightly journey in search of mates, and the pinpricks of light they create provide a magical backdrop for unforgettable summer memories.
While common fireflies, or lightning bugs, can be found in many places across the eastern United States, the rare and intriguing species Photinus carolinus can only be found in a few pockets of the greater Appalachian Mountain region, including Allegheny National Forest and other parts of the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors. Known as synchronous fireflies, these tiny beetles produce a most unusual light show. They flash for several seconds, looking much like any other fireflies, but then they all turn off together for several seconds, as if someone threw a switch. After a pause, they begin blinking again and repeat the pattern. First-time witnesses to the display often find themselves awestruck at the sight.
Fireflies can be seen throughout most relatively dark and undeveloped spaces in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region from mid-June to mid-July, but true lightning bug enthusiasts will want to check out some special events that celebrate this fascinating little creature.
The main event is the PA Firefly Festival, held on June 23 at the Black Caddis Ranch B&B and Cabins at Camp Fossil Creek in Kellettville. This year, the PA Firefly Festival won the PA Wilds Conservation Stewardship Award in recognition of the worldwide attention it has bought to this local phenomenon and the conservation efforts that its organizers have launched. From noon to nightfall, this family-friendly gathering includes exhibits on fireflies and other local natural phenomena, videos, arts and crafts, games, food, and live music. After dark, festival staff will guide attendees with tickets into the woods for viewing experiences of synchronous fireflies, unique Chinese Lantern fireflies, and other firefly species. Firefly viewing tickets have already sold out, but festival organizers will have a waiting list available in case some ticketed attendees don’t show.
Fortunately, you can still take advantage of other organized and ticketed firefly viewing experiences. On June 8 and 9 at the Hearts Content Recreation Area and June 15 and 16 at the Loleta Recreation Day Use Area, PA Firefly Festival volunteers will host Firefly Expeditions in Allegheny National Forest. These experiences include a short informational program and a guided walk in the forest to locate, observe, and identify fireflies.
On June 19, dedicated firefly fanatics can join in on the Glow & Know VIP Firefly Campout at the Minister Creek Campground in Allegheny National Forest. This event includes an overnight campout, meals, informative nature talks, guided walks, an evening campfire, and an exclusive synchronous firefly viewing experience.
Residents and business owners in Forest County can participate in the ticketed Locals’ Night at 9 p.m. on June 20, also at the Black Caddis Ranch in Kellettville. This educational opportunity is designed to help you learn about the fireflies in your backyard so you can answer common questions posed by customers, guests, and friends.
Photographers and videographers can sign up for the Firefly Festival Photographers’ Night on June 21 from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Black Caddis Ranch. This limited opportunity allows you uninterrupted shooting privileges in prime firefly territory.
On June 29 and 30, campers at the Tionesta Lake Recreation Area Campground can join in on a Firefly Expedition from 9:30-11:30 p.m.
World Firefly Day is celebrated the first full weekend in July, and Gateway Lodge will be holding Firefly Fireworks on July 7 starting at 9 p.m. This event is available exclusively to Gateway Lodge guests and will include a campfire orientation to local fireflies and a guided night hike in the forest. Forest Ridge Cabins in Marienville will host a similar event for its guests on July 14 at 8 p.m.
Wherever you view fireflies, be aware of their fragile nature and take steps to reduce your impact on their survival. If you catch any, do so gently and release them safely. Artificial light confuses them and disrupts their mating possibilities, so cover your flashlight or cell phone light with red or blue cellophane, limit flashlight use, and keep it pointed at the ground when on. Also, be respectful of your fellow viewers’ experience and keep your voices low. Seeing synchronous fireflies in particular is a truly rare opportunity, and you’ll want to be fully present so you can soak it all in.
Find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling (814) 849-5197.