Blue Ghost Fireflies- Do You Have Them in Your Woods?

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blue ghost fireflies WNC by Jay Michaud

Blue ghost fireflies appear in WNC each May in deep dark woods. Photo by Jay Michaud

Blue ghost fireflies appear around Hendersonville and Asheville, North Carolina for just two weeks or so each year. Blue ghost firefly males glow just over the ground looking like so many fairies dancing through the night. This unique display occurs from the beginning to the end of May as the male blue ghosts use their unique bluish white luminescence to attract a mate.

firepinks in the forest

Blue ghost fireflies live in dark, mature woodlands with a high canopy, large rhododendrons and mountain laurels with old leaf litter on the forest floor. If you have dark adjusted eyes at 9 p.m., you might find the insect in your local forest.

The bluish color of the blue ghost firefly is unusual among fireflies. Unlike other fireflies who turn their lights on and off, blue ghosts stay lit for up to a minute. Also, the females do not fly but situate themselves on the forest floor and glow faintly. The males flying low, hardly ever getting above 24 inches from the ground. The male using their long glowing flight, entices the female to glow then they mate.

The fireflies may be unique to the southern Appalachians but that does not mean they are rare locally. If you can find a mature undisturbed forest in a dark area that is away from yard and security lighting, then you might find the insects in your neighborhood. The author has found them in the Rugby, Willow, Crab Creek, and Blantyre areas of the county and suspects they can be found in many other areas of the county.

So how to see the blue ghost fireflies? First, locate a mature dark forest with an undergrowth of large rhododendron and mountain laurel where you have permission to access. Start acclimating your eyes to the dark at about 8:30 p.m., extinguishing any artificial lights. If the insects are in the area, you should start to see them wink into view about 9:00 p.m. under the shade of the densest shrubs. As the next hour progresses and the sky darkens, you should see many more blue ghost fireflies. At the time of this writing (May 24, 2021), blue ghosts are in their peak in Henderson County and are spectacular.

Update: Blue ghosts were not as spectacular in 2022 due to a six week dry spell in May. In 2023 the fireflies began about the second week of May and have been great.

Here is a great article from Clemson Extension. Blue ghosts are in up state SC too!