On the Hunt for the Blue Ghost

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Every year around the middle/end of May a rare phenomenon appears in the southern Appalachians. Wan blue-ish lights hover above the floor of the forest, appearing by the thousands in undisturbed, high-moisture areas. The annual return of the blue ghost fireflies is a very special occasion; loss of pristine forest has shrunk suitable habitat for the blue ghost down to just a small area around DuPont State Recreational Forest in North Carolina, and on top of that, the fireflies only appear for about a month each year!

Blue Ghost Firefly North Carolina

What’s a blue ghost firefly anyway?

Although DuPont has become synonymous with blue ghost fireflies, there are many public lands in nearby counties where this night marvel can also be seen, including the Nantahala & Pisgah National Forests (NC) and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness right here in the Upstate. And it’s actually not so very difficult to see the blue ghost; you won’t need special night vision equipment, nor do you have to venture far from your car to see them.

Mid-May through mid-June is prime viewing time. Choose a high-moisture destination in or near DuPont (a trail that is close to a river, a sheltered cove…), and head out before sunset to scout. (Tip: this is the perfect time to visit one of the dozens of waterfalls along the Blue Ridge Escarpment and enjoy a popular destination without the crowds!) Finally, once the sun sets, use the last bit of light to hike a short distance out on your pre-selected trail, and then wait… and wait a little more. Be patient! The blue ghosts come out late – after sunset and not at twilight like all the other fireflies.

One May, we headed to DuPont on our annual blue ghost excursion. We took along a picnic, and enjoyed dinner outdoors while we waited for the sun to set. Other species of fireflies appeared around dusk, fireworks against the dark forest that had the boys standing still in silent awe. We had just about given up on seeing the ghosts and were set to begin the journey home when we walked out one last time – and there they were! As our eyes adjusted we saw more and more of them, glowing for up to a minute at a time, hovering above the forest floor in an eerie scene that had us all captivated. The blue ghosts are notoriously hard to photograph, and I didn’t even try – we just soaked in the scene before us, marveling at the rather spooky scene.

As thousands flock to DuPont to search for the elusive lightning bug, the NC Forest Service has had to take steps to protect the blue ghost populations within park boundaries. We have seen temporary trail closures in response to an overwhelming number of visitors during blue ghost season, and forest officials observed a high level of habitat disturbance and disruption by the large nighttime crowds, which could have long-term impacts on local populations of fireflies. Forest officials ask that the public observe trail closure signs and stay out of closed areas.

Double check to see what trails are closed before your visit. Over the past year especially, Dupont Forest has seen an explosion of visitors and they’ve had to close trails more often for maintenance.

Plan a trip to visit the blue ghost firefiles

In your quest to find the blue ghost firefly, I hope you’ll respect the work that forest service employees and other public servants are doing in preserving the habitat of this seldom-seen insect. Please stay on the trail, visit during official hours, park in designated areas and obey posted signs & trail closures (and make sure to pack a flashlight!). The fireflies are a wonderful opportunity to instill in our children an awe of the beauty of nature, but if we’re not careful, their light will blink out forever.

If you’d like to take a guided tour to see the blue ghosts, we’d recommend this incredible experience in Pisgah Forest.

You can see what the blue ghost fireflies look like in this photo.

This article was originally published on Femme au foyer.

Has your family ever visited the blue ghost fireflies?

About the Author
Mother of four young boys, Liene is constantly on the move since returning to Greenville in 2012. Whether she’s exploring the state parks and natural areas of the Carolinas or teaming up with other moms to organize activities for the kids, she’s always searching for the next adventure in the Upstate. For everything from hiking, travel, cooking and crafts to multicultural & global education posts, visit her blog, http://FemmeauFoyer2011.blogspot.com.

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Judy kozak
6 years ago

Amazed when I saw blue lights in the tree in my back yard, while waiting for my dog to go the bathroom, not sure what they were, I researched and believe they are fireflies,
However, I live in Woodstock Georgia,

Valerie Wieckowski
6 years ago

They closed the trails at DuPont last years and it looks like this year too. I guess it’s to protect them because people step on them on the trails and then the flashing lights mess with their matting.

Lee Early
5 years ago

So can we attempt to see them this year?

David H
4 years ago

We have them in some areas of northern Greenville County as well, but they come out in mid-to-late April here. Their emergence is ground temperature dependent, so we are a little ahead of western NC.