Glowworms in Alabama Are Putting on a Show


| LAST UPDATE 08/31/2021

By Eliza Gray
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Dismals Canyon is one of the unique National Natural Landmarks of the United States that offers visitors a beautiful experience, not only in the daytime, but at night as well.

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The Northern Alabama Natural Area is home to a thriving population of glowworms, a form of fungal gnat called Orfelia fultoni - also known as dismalites. The glowworms peak in population twice a year, once in the spring and once in the autumn during their bi-annual larvae boom. The result? A beautiful natural light show that's hard to come by in North America. Some liken it to the fireflies in the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National park in Tennessee, but the general consensus is that Dismals Canyon is in a league of its own.

Part of the magic of the attraction comes from its lack of popularity. When speaking with National Geographic, Gary Mullen, an expert in entomology, explained the under-the-radar status of the magical canyon. "That location has been a popular local tourist attraction going back to the 1920s and 30s, but it was privately owned, and still is, so it's never been widely publicized," the retired professor explained. "You find a lot of people to this day who don't know it exists." But despite the lack of PR, the National Nature Landmark has a lot to offer. According to the park's resident biologist, Britney Slappey-McCaffrey, they rank first place in glowworm numbers.

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"I've had people tell me that dismalites are in different places in Alabama, but not at the numbers that we have," Slappey-McCaffrey explained of Dismals Canyon. "We have the biggest population of dismalites anywhere in the world." The thriving colony has to do with the heavy tree canopy which creates a protective and humid cover over the canyon site, however climate change has continued to grow as a threat to this unique site and its glowing inhabitants. In addition, increased light pollution from city buildings and highways have impacted the internal clock of bioluminescent organisms, altering their ability to glow at night time.

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But with conservationists and experts working to preserve the Alabama glowworm community, fans of the canyon feel that the glowworms are in safe hands. Check back soon for more interesting environmental stories from around the world.