Every June, Elkmont Ghost Town — an abandoned resort ghost town in Great Smoky Mountains National Park — lights up with the world's largest gathering of Photinus carolinus, a species of firefly that is famous for its synchronous flashing behavior.
Inspired by these twinkling insects, photographer Harun Mehmedinovic uses his surreal time-lapse techniques to carefully document the insects' "odd forest rave party" in a short film.
When you view the film, titled "Elkmont Symphony," one of the first things you'll notice is the remarkable sophistication and organization of this sublime light show. Mehmedinovic explains that "male fireflies enter the mating season by flashing their lights brightly four to eight times in unison for about ten seconds, followed by [an] eight- to twelve-second darkness in which females may respond with their lights."
Mehmedinovic's interest in documenting this night-time spectacle stems from his work with SKYGLOW, an ongoing photography project he started with friend Gavin Heffernan to examine the effects of light pollution on nature.
These synchronous fireflies are a fascinating example of just how much light pollution can damage nature. Because these whimsical insects require complete darkness for mating, mobs of flashlight-wielding tourists hoping to glimpse this bioluminescent wonder pose a serious problem.
That's why the National Park Service has put restrictions in place to lessen the impact of humans in the area. These restrictions include limiting the number of people who visit the area during firefly season, as well as prohibiting the use of flashlights and other sources of light pollution. The park holds a lottery for access to the event, selling a limited number of tickets for a window in late May or early June, which is the peak time to see them.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was first published in March 2016.