The rare creature in Franklin County that could become the valley’s next celebrity

PHIL CAMPBELL, Ala. - As the Tennessee Valley remains captivated by the return of minor league baseball, the glow worms of Dismals Canyon are on the list of possible team names: GloWorms.

"GloWorms" is an entry that the folks at Dismals Canyon say they weren't the ones to submit to BallCorps' Name the Team Contest, but they're happy it's one of the Top 10. Employees there hope the name will make it past the Top 5 to become the valley's choice.

"It is super cool. We are really excited about it, whether we get it or not," said Britney Slappey, a Naturalist/Environmentalist at Dismals Canyon. "I actually got tagged in it on Facebook," she said, "and messaged my friends when I saw it like, 'You better vote for the GloWorms!'"

She said she believes having a team named after the GloWorms can not just help Dismals Canyon, but natural parks all over the state.

"I really think it would benefit them in the long run, as well as us, for education to people about respecting places like this," she said. "Take nothing, leave nothing. Nature can live without man, but man can not live without nature."

That's the main message at Dismals Canyon, home to the glow worms or "dismalites" that hang out in the moss there. Slappey hopes that message will only spread as the contest goes on.

The Dismalites

Slappey said the dismalites that live at Dismals Canyon are rare mostly because of the amount of them you'll find in the canyon during peak season, which is around June. There is another peak sighting time around September.

The dismalites are actually fly larvae similar to fungus gnats. They're described as “close cousins” to the rare glow worms you may find overseas in Australia and New Zealand.

"They are a form of glow worm," said Slappey. "They are only about a centimeter in size. About the size of a small piece of string. And they glow on their head and their tail. Basically, they are one of the only species in the world that glow on both ends. That's one of the many things that makes a dismalite special," she said.

Dismals Canyon hosts night tours where you can view them for yourself. You can only view them in complete darkness, Slappey said. She leads the tours and said you can see at least a few dismalites year-round.  She told us the only other place in the world that you can find this particular species of glow worm is in North Carolina.

But why Dismals Canyon?

Leaders say the entire canyon is an ecosystem that supports the dismalites.

"This moss is kind of a two-fold thing for them. It holds moisture. So they can get back into the moss to keep themselves from drying out," Slappey said. "And, the moisture level is so much higher down here. The humidity level is so much higher. It is 15 degrees cooler down here from the parking lot down into the canyon. Everything about this canyon is basically built around the dismalites. It's like this ecosystem was made for them."

We took a tour down into Dismals Canyon, past the Rainbow Falls and The Grotto, to Witches Cavern where the dismalites are mostly found.

Slappey said there are strict rules on this journey: stay on the trails and respect the canyon and its wildlife. A full list of rules for the canyon can be found here.

"The dismalites make their home on the face of these rocks. The salt on your fingertips will actually kill the dismalites, they are so sensitive," she said. "This property is privately owned, but it is protected by the Department of the Interior. So if there is any defacement of this canyon, they step in and prosecute. This is a take-nothing, leave-nothing place. This is not something where you come down and leave your name. I try to educate people and children that come down here on how important it is not to do this and to preserve this property."

About Dismals Canyon

Dismals Canyon features a 1.5 mile hike through massive boulders, grottos, waterfalls, and caverns that are quite the adventure but relatively easy to navigate.

It is also a relatively undisturbed property.

"This is the last primeval forest east of the Mississippi, and what that means is it has never been touched by axe or fire," said Slappey. "It is over 300,000 years old. A lot of your tree species, plant species that you see down here are not something that you see in Alabama or the South in general."

Slappey said three underground springs join together to form Dismals Branch, which carves the canyon. This canyon has been known as Alabama's best-kept secret, she said, but in the past two years with their rising social media presence it is less secret and more local marvel.

"We want everybody to experience this canyon, but we also want everyone to respect this place when they come here," she said.

The people at Dismals Canyon say they are ready for the increased publicity they expect from the BallCorps contest, but they also want to use that for the greater good of nature.

"We want that to educate people on how special and important this place is for future generations," Slappey explained.

There are only nine days left before we learn the top five possible team names for the new minor league team to play at Town Madison.