Discovering Synchronous Fireflies in the Allegheny National Forest

copyright John Stoneman

Synchronous Fireflies

This year will be our 11th year observing the amazing synchronized fireflies! We will do an invite only camp out focusing on not trampling the fireflies. Contact me for an invite! ...

In June of 2011, I was with with a small group of campers when I first noticed what I now know were "synchronous fireflies" in the Allegheny National Forest.

I did not know at the time how big a deal it was. Thankfully someone who was there realized how special this discovery was!

The campers were, my sister Laurie Barr, my friends Cathy Pedler and Randy Francisco, and myself John "Stony" Stoneman.

Here is my story.

As night fell on our camping trip (saturday June 25th 2011) Laurie, Cathy and I was sitting down by the creek that ran through our campsite. Randy was up in his tent reading maybe. Cathy and Laurie were down in the creek bed, while I sat up on the bank. The woman were talking about different environmental issues while I stared off into the woods letting my eyes and my mind wander.

It started to get dark and we were surrounded by lightning bugs or fireflies. Laurie and I are from New Jersey and we called them lightning bugs. As it got darker I was looking across the creek to a darker section of the woods. Up and to the right a bit. There I noticed that a few of the fireflies seemed to come on and go off at the same time. Not many but enough that I noticed. I mentioned to the woman that I thought some of the fireflies were "flashing on and off at the same time". My observations were met with disbelief. So I kept watching.

As the night progressed it seemed that more and more were joining in with the original group. More and more of the hillside joined in sync.

Soon Laurie and Cathy realized that they were in fact starting to synchronize.

We all now focused on the hillside and alerted Randy as to what was going on.

This was the oddest thing I have ever seen in the forest! We stayed up very late as the longer we watched the more the fireflies were in sync. But about 1PM when we finally decided to turn in, the whole hillside as far as we can see in the woods was in sync.

The next day I just dismissed it as a "real odd thing" that happened while we were camping. But fortunately Cathy realised it was a very special discovery. Cathy ended up researching it and found it that "synchronized fireflies" was a thing! But at the time, they were only confirmed in the Great Smokey Mountains and somewhere in Asia. NOT in the Allegheny National Forest ...... Not until our camping trip!
Because this event and place is so special to me, I am reluctant to announce on the internet the exact location. But it's safe to say it's near Kellettville Pa.

But you don't need to go to Kellettville Pa to see the Synchronous fireflies. After locating the Synchronous Fireflies in Kellettville, I spent the next two weeks (and many trips on my motorcycle) checking to see if they were in other areas of the national forest. And to my delight, just about every other place I looked I found them! They are very wide-spread. But the trick is to check for them very late at night. Or should I say VERY early in the morning? 12 to 1 AM is the best time to see the "full show".

After Kellettville, I searched near Bradford Pa and found them. Then I tried Tracy Ridge and found them as well as near Rimrock and Jakes Rocks. Then I found them in the Allegany State Park over the border in NY after finding them off the Indian Pipe Trail south of the border in Pa. Next I took a trip down to Ridgway and found them near the Empire Tunnel. They were also seen in Kane, Mt Jewett, Port Allegheny, Coudersport, Rose Lake, outside Wellsville NY, Sugar Bay and Willow Bay to name other spots I have seen them. It probably is harder to NOT find them. But again, the trick is to view them very late at night. Start at 10:30PM maybe and be willing to stay until about 1AM. The woods should be a dampish, shady, mixed hardwoods with a nice leafy floor. I prefer hollows near streams.

I have found both the Synchronous Fireflies (Photinus carolinus) and the Chinese Lantern (in the Photuris firefly family), in most areas in and around the Allegheny National Forest.

Good luck in your firefly hunting, viewing, and photography.

PA Firefly Festival

Thanks to Cathy Pedler and now Peggy and Ken Buttler, there is an annual Pa Firefly Festival which I have participated in for the past six years. I have led firefly hikes in the past and my band plays music every year. I have volunteered by building two "Firefly" cut out for photo opps!

Stony and Company 2018

And every year when I feel the fireflies are at their peak performance, I return to the place I originally saw the fireflies. Just me and my camera. Oh, and millions of synchronous fireflies all flashing in unison!

Fireflies at our campsite

PS-Stay tuned, I may post photo of our first camping trip of when we discovered the Synchronous Fireflies in the near future. They are on a disk of an abandon computer in my shop!

My friend Joann and I at "the spot"


Pointing out the spot where I first noticed "something odd"


Parking for the campsite where it all began


Amy from the band "Stony and Company" in the firefly cut out!


The hillside where I first seen the fireflies sync


A day time view of a firefly


Mating Firefly cutout


My friends at the Black Caddis Ranch

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All text and photos on this page © John V Stoneman 2018