All my life I have been surprised by the annual arrival of our lightening bugs as we called them when I was growing up. Now days most people call them fireflies. They arrive like clockwork every summer so there is no reason for it to be a surprise, but it is, nevertheless. I suppose that is because their arrival is so sudden. One night they not there and the next night those wonderful little sparkling yellow lights are decorating the night.
Scientists explain how it all works—the result of a mixture of oxygen with pigments, enzymes and a chemical called adenosine triphosphate that acts on uric acid crystals in the firefly’s light producing cells. But theirs is a poor explanation for the wonderous sight as they arrive to light up Applewood Manor’s summer nights.
But Asheville cannot just have ordinary fireflies. The city that boasts that it is the weirdest, quirkiest place in America seldom does anything ordinary. For two to four weeks in late spring or early summer, several valley floors around Asheville are blanketed by the eerie blue lights of Asheville’s Blue Ghost fireflies. Instead of the yellow lights we are used to, these fireflies emit a unique blue-white hue and the color is not the only thing different about the otherworldly version of our familiar lightening bugs. While ordinary fireflies flash on and off, the male blue ghost glows for up to a minute at a time painting streaks of bluish light through the forest. The females do not fly, they crawl up on leaves and foliage and glow to help males find them, painting dots of blue along the forest floor. With countless meandering glowing fireflies, the forest floor becomes adrift with blue ghostly smoke-like wisps. As for why they are called Blue Ghost Fireflies, mountain legend held that the glowing blue fireflies were the ghosts of Confederate soldiers, as many lost their lives in the region where the fireflies appear.
Viewing this unusual firefly isn’t easy. Because they prefer moist forest floors, people walking the trails in the area would likely crush them. That is why some areas close their trails during the Blue Ghost mating season to preserve these unique creatures. The Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest offers Blue Ghost Tours. Space is very limited. Online booking opens around the middle of April of each year. And while the dates vary, the tours are near the last half of May and the first week of June. For more information go to https://cradleofforestry.com.
Asheville Hiking Tours offers Blue Ghost Firefly Tours. Again, space is very limited. They start booking for Blue Ghost Firefly Tours in February of each year. Go to their website, https://www.ashevillehikingtours.com, for more details.
Photo by Spencer Black