July 4, 2014. I’m at the park late this evening for another fireworks display of sorts, a natural one put on by the lightning bugs. A few have already started blinking in the twilight about the time I arrive. I have the swamp to myself. Mosquitoes are practically non-existent and disappear altogether after it gets dark.
The cicadas are getting ready to bed down for the night, but there are always a few that put in one last extra-loud burst before calling it quits. For a short while the swamp is silent except for the every present cricket chirping. Around 9:00 the monotonous, pulsing rhythm of katydid music gets started. A lot of people think they are cicadas, which are only active during the day. There are lots of different katydids in North America, but I believe the one most folks hear calling at night in South Carolina hardwood forests is the common true katydid, Pterophylla camellifolia. They look like big lime-green leaves with legs. Like cicadas, they don’t really start calling until hot weather arrives, typically late June and early July.
It takes a while for the swamp to get completely dark. The lightning bugs have gradually increased, and by 10:00 seem to be at peak performance. They are blinking at all heights, from ground level to forty feet or more in the trees. They seem most abundant along a 500-feet stretch of high boardwalk from the swamp edge, where the big beech tree is located, to the “tee” where the high boardwalk continues east and the low boardwalk begins. It’s a marvel to see the bioluminescent beetles in action, and even though the synchronous lightning bug show gets all the attention, the large number of blinking lightning bugs is still worth the drive down.
A fair number of wolf spiders are on the boardwalk hand rails, and one really impressive female, with a three-inch spread, is clinging to the side of the boardwalk pier post. I continue walking to where the low boardwalk starts, sit on a bench, and enjoy the peace and quiet.