Congaree National Park Fireflies – Interview w/ Jon Manchester – Part 2

03-08-2024

Love Hiking News recently interviewed Congaree National Park Chief of Visitor Services, Jon Manchester about the Congaree National Park Firefly viewing event. In Part 2 of this 3 part series, Jon discusses his background, what makes Congaree special for fireflies, and where to see the fireflies. 

Table of Contents

Jon Manchester, Chief of Visitor Services, Congaree National Park
Jon Manchester, Chief of Visitor Services, Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park Fireflies 2024 Lottery and Permits

Love Hiking News: Last year Congaree allowed 130 vehicles a night. Are the permits in the lottery going to be limited to weekends or can people come in and see the fireflies during the week nights as well? And do you see any changes in the number of permits from last year to this year?

Jon Manchester:

We’re still kind of in that early planning stage. We may increase it just a little bit, just because we’re still not hitting our capacity. Even though we have parking for a set amount of cars, even with all the lottery passes being distributed, we’re still not getting everybody coming. We don’t know why that is necessarily. It could be that a bunch of friends put in for the lottery expecting that maybe only one of them would get it, but a couple of them actually got it. But they all came together. So two passes go unused. We’re hitting about three quarters of, of the number of people who get passes showing up. It’s still fairly good attendance, but we may increase it just a little bit because we still do have some capacity to park people if we don’t get everybody using their passes.

I mean, hopefully everyone does. We just wanna make sure that we’re not overcrowding it and pushing it to a point where there’s too many people again, which was the reason why we had to go to that lottery in the first place. 2000 people a night packed into this really one small area was becoming  a bit of a concern, and it wasn’t a fun experience. We heard a lot of complaints from people because it’s like, I couldn’t see fireflies, it was too crowded. All I could smell was bug spray and sweat.

Every year when we get to the end of the fireflies event, you know, we’re looking at how many people came out and using that data to help us inform for the next year. The price isn’t gonna change, I don’t think. That’ll stay steady. We’re moving towards a model where it’s very similar to what Great Smoky does. It’ll be a set number of days from X date to Y date, between eight and 10 days, and right in the peak period of their synchronization. Once the Firefly event’s done, and we go back to just regular park operations and, and access will be 24 7 again, people will be able to come out to the park. Can’t guarantee that there’ll be syncing as fireflies. We’ve got fireflies throughout the summer. 

Love Hiking News: Just to clarify, during the event the permits are only allowing people to come in on the weekends and is the parks closed during the week?

Jon Manchester: No, we look at the peak would be, say May 10th to May 20th, if that’s gonna be the peak period, those would be the 10 days of our event. So for May 10th through 20th, every one of those evenings, that’s when we would put out there for people to request a permit for pass for one of those days. And so those 10 nights we would have. Last year we did 10 nights, we had a little bit of a break in between, but those 10 nights included weekday nights.

Congaree National Park Fireflies 2024
Congaree National Park Fireflies 2024

Misconceptions about the Congaree Firefly and which species are Synchronized

Love Hiking News: Are there any misconceptions about the fireflies that you’d like to address? What are some of the maybe common things that you hear that from visitors in the park that are not quite true?

Jon Manchester: We’ve got several species of fireflies that are present here in the park. This species, we see them basically for two and a half weeks. They’ve got a specific period that’s when they’re out. And once they kind of wrap everything up, they’re done for the year. And then it’s all the other species that are out, like photinus pyralis, which is your common backyard firefly. They’re everywhere. We’ll see those throughout the summer. People come out here and they’ll say, “I still saw fireflies in the middle of July.” We’ve got fireflies here still, it’s just not that species that is synchronizing.

This species of fireflies is on a two year cycle. The fireflies we’re seeing this year in 2024, they are the result of the firefly event in 2022. What we’re watching is the end of their life cycle. Most of their life is spent in the soil as larvae. Right at that two year mark they’re emerging as adults, they really don’t eat anything. They’re just out for really one specific purpose, and that is to find a mate and carry on the species.

We’re kind of watching the end of their life cycles. All fireflies have distinctive flash patterns. So that’s one way you can distinguish between one species and another. They all look very similar to one another, at least on the outside, but when you see them flashing, they have different flash patterns. Our synchronous fireflies have a very different synchronous flash than the ones in the Smokies, for instance. It’s their language. It’s just like you could be talking to three people from Europe, one person from France, one person from Italy, one person from Poland. They are all gonna have very similar outer features, but when they start talking, they’re probably gonna be speaking three different languages. That’s how you would know, that person’s French, that person’s Italian, that person’s Polish. With a firefly’s it’s the same kind of thing. That one’s flashing in this pattern, so that must be that species, this one’s flashing in that pattern. That must be that species.

Congaree National Park Entrance Sign
Congaree National Park Entrance Sign

Congaree Synchronized Fireflies are actually Beetles

Jon Manchester: I hear fireflies, but they’re actually beetles. They’re not a fly. They are in the beetle family. Their wings kind of form an outer shell, rather than a fly that it’s wings are not covered or protected by an outer shell.

No, I, I know what you

Mean. But yeah, they, they, they are, they are a Beatle, not a fly.

Yeah. Gotcha. That’s a good misconception as well then. Thank you. Um, a a couple of the questions that I had were related to research and if there are any kind of researchers conducting studies on the fireflies and, and specifically during that event, are there researchers working in re during that time? Or are there any volunteer or citizen programs that are working on research during that event?

Love Hiking News is an integral part of Love Hiking Club, dedicated to delivering in-depth news and reports on National Parks. We focus on bringing the latest updates, fascinating stories, and insightful interviews from the heart of nature’s wonders.

Our commitment is to keep outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers informed about the diverse landscapes, unique events, and conservation efforts shaping our National Parks. 

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My name is Rich, and I love to hike!

I grew up in Idaho, with plenty of hiking and camping just minutes away from our home. Growing up, we spent summers at the lake and falls in the mountains. Camping and hiking with friends was such a special way to spend time together. I’ve spent a lifetime outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

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