The speaker will discuss the fireflies of Valley Beautiful in a free public program on Saturday
By Richard Rourk
Fireflies, or “lightning bolts” as many locals call them, will soon begin to light up the Valley Beautiful night sky and Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park and Friends of Rocky Fork State Park are planning events aimed at celebrate the illuminating flight of these enigmatic insects.
The Friends of Rocky Fork State Park will host a free public program led by a firefly expert as the park kicks off its annual raffle for hikes in search of these dazzling nocturnal insects.
What are fireflies? Is Unicoi County home to different types of fireflies? What are they doing when they’re not flashing their bio-luminescent lights? Join entomologist Will Kuhn for a free lecture hosted by Friends of Rocky Fork State Park on Saturday, May 14 from 4-6 p.m. at Erwin City Hall.
Kuhn will shed light on fireflies native to East Tennessee, including the famous synchronous and blue ghost fireflies, both of which are found in Rocky Fork State Park, according to the Vice President of Friends of the Park d ‘Rocky Fork State, Carrie Hovey.
Kuhn is director of science and research at Discover Life in America, a nonprofit partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“He will discuss the natural history and incredible diversity of fireflies in the area and talk about what you can do to support fireflies in your own backyard,” Hovey said.
Although originally from the eastern coastal plains of Texas, Kuhn has lived in or near Appalachia for the past 12 years, earning his master’s degree in entomology at Virginia Tech and his doctorate in evolutionary biology at Rutgers University in the New Jersey. He studied the flight behavior of dragonflies for his graduate studies, but since then has become more of an entomological generalist and aspiring naturalist.
“Kuhn enjoys learning a little more every day about the rich flora and fauna of eastern Tennessee and especially the Smokies,” Hovey said.
Recently, Kuhn had been busy with his research.
“He is obsessed with documenting every creature he can find in his small suburban neighborhood in Knoxville and is slowly but surely creating a native grassland to support biodiversity in its own backyard,” Hovey said. “
Hovey and company are working hard to plan these events despite a whirlwind few weeks.
“As you know, we just sponsored the Upper East Tennessee Fiddlers Convention last Saturday,”
said Covey. “The event was fantastic, over 400 people attended, great music and fun for the attendees as well as the audience.”
Additionally, she noted that the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park attended NoliFest a few weeks ago and that members of the organization were in Erwin this past weekend sharing information about the park and the Firefly program and Erwin Outdoor Festival events.
In addition to Kuhn’s educational program, the Friends of Rocky Fork will also be supporting Tim Pharis of Rocky Fork State Park with firefly viewing opportunities at the end of May.
“Tim is modeling a lottery system similar to the Smokies to provide 6 nights of guided tours in the park,” Hovey said. “Friends attend and host our own special members night with the opportunity for active Friends members to learn about fireflies. There is a short window of time each year when these two unique species are in their breeding season and emit distinctive light patterns around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.
Hovey noted that the male synchronous firefly’s pattern is five to 11 yellow flashes (one flash train), a six to nine second pause, then a repeat.
“Males synchronize their flash trains to attract females,” Hovey explained.
“It’s all happening low to the ground, so seeing them in our mountains has the effect of a low starry night,” she said.
“The Blue Ghost firefly is even more fascinating because the females never develop wings,” Hovey said. “Both sexes glow, with the males leaving their lights on while flying close to the ground.”
She looks forward to this year’s brief firefly season.
“We’re lucky to have these and other fireflies in Rocky Fork and our area, and to be able to help the park host events like this to enjoy them more,” Hovey said.
The Friends of Rocky Fork State Park exists to support and assist park staff in protecting, preserving, promoting, and improving the park. Formed in 2016, this nonprofit group seeks new members to help expand efforts on behalf of the park. By becoming a member, you can get involved in projects like maintaining trails, volunteering at special events, and visiting fairs and festivals to promote the park throughout Tennessee and North Carolina.
Members are invited to attend board meetings every two months, with the next scheduled for Monday, June 13 at Old Flag Pond School at 6 p.m. Regulations/Policy/Insurance and Finance and Planning. Those interested could even consider becoming a member of the board, with elections held at the annual meeting of members in December.
Individual memberships are only $25 per year; families can register for $40 and students for $10. For more information and to register, visit rockyforkfriends.org. E-mail [email protected] with questions.
Dates for Rocky Fork’s Firefly programs will be announced shortly. Check Facebook and tnstateparks.com/parks/events/rocky-fork for updates.