Tag Archives: Smokies National Park

Firefly tourism sparks wonder and concern

Fireflies (beetles in the family Lampyridae) include about 2,200 species worldwide, with breathtaking luminous displays that make them one of our most charismatic mini-fauna. So no surprise that their popularity has been skyrocketing lately in countries like India, Mexico, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the United States. In a 2021 review, we estimated that about a million tourists visit firefly-watching sites spread across 12+ countries during a typical year!

For fireflies to thrive, we’ll need to protect the habitats needed by all their life stages.

I’m absolutely thrilled that so many people are stepping into the night to experience the sheer wonder of these dazzling creatures! And tourism can certainly be a boon, creating jobs and providing revenue for local communities.

Yet there’s a dark side to fireflies’ popularity. Confronted with rapidly growing visitor numbers, the stars of the show are often subjected to trampling, disturbance of larval and adult habitat, and light pollution.

Promoting sustainable firefly tourism in the U.S.

More than 150 different firefly species are sprinkled across the United States, including several whose mating displays have grown into seasonal tourist attractions. These include the synchronously flashing Photinus carolinus and Photuris frontalis fireflies, along with many others that put on remarkable light shows.

In April 2021, The Xerces Society hosted the first-ever U.S. firefly tourism charette, a virtual meeting of park managers, tour guides, event planners, and firefly experts. We discussed the many challenges of managing thousands of visitors while still protecting local firefly populations, and came up with guidelines for site managers and tourists.

Aimed at moving U.S. firefly tourism toward greater sustainability, these guidelines are now available on the Xerces website, including:

So enjoy the show, remember to step lightly & keep it dark!

Curious to learn more?

Click here for more info at The Xerces Society, including a map of popular U.S. firefly tourist sites.

Read our 2021 article in Conservation Science & Practice: Firefly tourism: Advancing a global phenomenon toward a brighter future (news story here & here).