Phausis reticulata, or the Blue Ghost firefly, is found in the Southern Appalachians. I was surprised to find that it is reputed to be incredibly difficult to find, and one of the most unique fireflies on the planet. This is before I saw them, that is. At first, upon hearing the name, I just assumed that they have a bluish flash. After speaking with the attendants at the Cradle of Forestry, I was set right on my misconceptions.
As it turns out, the Blue Ghost is called this because the males of this species emit a glow, instead of a flash. That glow is light blue in color, and can last 30-45 seconds before winking out. I was told that they prefer “deep woods” habitats and stay close to the ground. Deep woods, as far as I can tell means a mixed hardwood shrub habitat with a relatively open understory. At least, this is where I’ve found them at.
I went out that night at sundown, heading back to my tent for the night and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a blue flicker. At first, I didn’t think much about it, but then I saw another, and another. By the time I’d reached the clearing the ghost were floating around in full form. It was evocative of the will o’ the wisp depictions I’ve seen in some video games and new bestiaries. A softly glowing orb of light dancing along above the ground, disappearing just as you get close only to appear off in the distance, lurring the unwary and foolish to the depths of whatever wood or swamp they inhabited. Thankfully these are only fireflies, but I could see someone getting lost if they did try and chase the lights.
These little bugs are remarkably reliable to see once you know where to find them. While a forest of fireflies is an awe inspiring site, these low-to-the-ground gems capture the imagination, creating false contours of the land below them, moving like a glowing sea above the leaf litter. If you live anywhere near the Great Smokey Mountains, Pisgah, or forest near these, call the ranger district and ask them if they have any viewing events, or if the Blue Ghost are shinning yet!