This Alabama town is glowing in the darkā€”find out why

Dismals Canyon
(Dismals Canyon / Facebook)

What’s that glow? It’s dismalitesā€š a unique insect that’s making Dismals Canyon in Phil Campbell, Alabama glow in the dark. Read on to learn about this unique light show, plus how you can go on a guided light tour.

What are dismalites?

Orfelia fultoni or “dismalites” is a bioluminescent fly larva, often called a “glow worm,” that is found in the southeastern United States. It is the only bioluminescent species of dipteran fly found in North America. They produce the bluest light of any studied bioluminescent insect.

What creates the light? According to dismalscanyon.com, it comes from a chemical reaction in two pairs of light-producing structures: one in the thorax and one near the tail end.

What’s especially cool about these rare creatures is that they can only be found in 15 locations across the world! But it gets coolerā€”one of these places is at Dismals Canyon in Phil Campbell, Alabama. That makes our state pretty special.

Other locations range from Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico to Waitomo Caves, New Zealand. View the full list.

Why do they live in Phil Campbell?

Located in Franklin County, you’ll find the town of Phil Campbell, and in this town, tucked within a primeval forest is Dismals Canyonā€”a dismalite’s paradise!

Dismals Canyon is an 85-acre Nature Conservatory designated a National Natural Landmark in 1975. Here you’ll find a very humid cave-like setting with a lot of algae and steep, well-shaded rock faces. Here are more reasons dismalites love the area:

  • It’s humid, which prevents them from drying out.
  • It features many hanging surfaces to allow them to build sticky webs to trap food.
  • It hosts an adequate supply of insects.
  • It provides a still atmosphere to prevent webs from tangling.
  • It’s dark, which allows their lights to show and attract food.

The amazing part is that when the sun sets and darkness falls, dismalites glow. And, with such a large population, their glow resembles constellations in the night’s sky. Think lightening bugs in space.

How to see them

Curious to see the dismalite’s intriguing light show in person? You can! Dismals Canyons offers guided night tours.

Guided Night Tours info:

Where: Dismals Canyon, 901 Hwy 8, Phil Campbell, AL 35581
Info + Reservations: 205.993.4559
When: Monday-Friday 10AM-5:30PM | Saturday 9AM-7PM | Sunday 9AM-5PM

Best time to visit:

  • Spring Peak Season: late April-May
  • Fall Peak Season: end of September-October 1

Want more info on insect light shows? Check out Lightning bugs light up around Birmingham: 5 things to know.

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Patience Itson
Articles: 104