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Firefly season at Blue Spring State Park

Each year, Blue Spring State Park, home to manatees in the winter and a favorite place for a swim in clear, bracing spring water in the summer, allows visitors to stay one hour after closing during “firefly season.”

Really? When I first read this, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. As a South Florida resident, am I alone in my ignorance of fireflies in Florida? But I did a quick Google search, and, indeed, Central Florida is awash with fireflies at dusk near bodies of water in late March and early April.

Fireflies at Blue Spring State Park

Located 35 miles north of Orlando in Orange City, the spring is home to hundreds of manatees in the winter and thousands of fireflies for a few weeks in spring.

To allow visitors to enjoy this phenomenon, Blue Spring State Park lets a limited number of visitors stay one hour after the traditional sunset closing time to see Florida fireflies in action:  “Mother Nature’s light show.”

Blue Spring State Park sunset over the St. Johns River, waiting for fireflies to light up. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida: Sunset over the St. Johns River, waiting for fireflies to light up. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Firefly viewing at the park is being held for two weeks, encompassing three weekends. It was March 17 to April 2, in 2022. Every year, the exact dates are adjusted to reflect the schedule of the fireflies, which are influenced by weather.

We’ll update this story when the dates for 2024 firefly season are available. The park office says the dates will also be posted on the park’s Facebook page.

During firefly season, the park admits a limited number of cars each night, so it is suggested you arrive early — 5:30 or 6 p.m. — because this is very popular. When you pay your $6 park admission, say you are staying for the fireflies. There is an additional $14 per car ticket, a donation to the Friends of Blue Spring State Park, who provide volunteers along the self-guided trail. Best chances to gain entrance are weeknights.

The fireflies become visible as the skies darken and are at their most dramatic between 8 and 9 p..m., when you must leave the park.

While there are fireflies throughout the woods in Blue Spring, what really makes this experience is the half-mile boardwalk along the spring run. On the boardwalk, you can safely walk through the darkness without stumbling. Fluorescent paint has been applied periodically to help guide the way. (Flashlights and cell phone lights really ruin the lighting and the experience. Even kids with glow necklaces and sticks were a negative.)

Between historic Thursby House and the end of the boardwalk at the spring boil, the trail has woods on both sides full of fireflies that are much brighter than I remember from my childhood.

The fireflies look like Christmas light scattered in the woods. Periodically, they seem to synchronize and flash in unison for a few moments. In this section of the boardwalk, you are immersed in the light show, with fireflies all around, occasionally flying over the boardwalk.

These fireflies seem to prefer low altitudes and woods over fields.

In March 2022, we were lucky enough to stay in a cabin at Blue Spring State Park during firefly season and so could walk over to the boardwalk. At our cabin, however, the woods were also full of fireflies.

Note: Park managers ask that you not use bug spray or capture fireflies.

Florida Rambler tip: Since you must arrive pretty early to get a parking spot, plan ahead and bring a picnic dinner. Close to the parking area, there are picnic tables with a view of the river and a playground for kids. You can enjoy the sunset over the St. Johns while you wait.

Blue Spring State Park

2100 West French Ave., Orange City, FL 32763. Phone: 386-775-3663. Open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Day use admission $6 per vehicle, $2 for pedestrians, bicycles.

Fireflies in Florida
Fireflies in Florida: At Blue Spring, catching fireflies is forbidden. (Stock photo)

What makes fireflies light up?

First, fireflies are not flies; they are beetles. Fireflies have an organ in their abdomen that produce a chemical that reacts to oxygen to produce light; the process is called bioluminescence. The light they produce does not produce warmth. One reason fireflies glow is to attract mates.

Why don’t I see more fireflies in Florida?

Sadly, fireflies are disappearing all over the world and human beings are to blame. Here’s more information from firefly. org:

Most species of fireflies thrive as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter at the margins of ponds and streams. And as they grow, they more or less stay where they were born. Some species are more aquatic than others, and a few are found in more arid areas—but most are found in fields, forests and marshes. Their environment of choice is warm, humid and near standing water of some kind—ponds, streams and rivers, or even shallow depressions that retain water longer than the surrounding ground. The problem is that in America and throughout the world, our open fields and forests are being paved over, and our waterways are seeing more development and noisy boat traffic. As their habitat disappears under housing and commercial developments, firefly numbers dwindle. Logging, pollution and increased use of pesticides may also contribute to destroying firefly habitat and natural prey.

— Firefly.org

Places near Blue Spring State Park from Florida Rambler

Visiting Blue Spring State Park

Cabins at Blue Spring and three other Central Florida parks

Wekiva River Basin inviting to paddlers, campers

Hontoon Island: Great kayak trip in wild setting plus hiking.


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Bob

Sunday 19th of March 2023

Great article. Last year late March we were camping in Faver Dykes St Pk and they were in there heavy, it was so much fun to watch them.. love all you articles.

Jim Uhing

Monday 29th of March 2021

Just wanted to note that you said to bring a flashlight and bug spray. Their facebook page says no flashlights or flash photography and to refrain from bug repellent. Both deter the fireflies.

Bonnie Gross

Thursday 1st of April 2021

Thanks, Jim. That information was given to me by park staff in previous years, so this must have changed. Thanks so much for letting me know; I'll update the story.

Bonnie

Lee Bennett

Sunday 14th of March 2021

We live east Sarasota county. To night saw the first one in years . What a delightful site. Will look for more tomorrow.

Gloriana Hansen

Monday 22nd of May 2017

Yes!, I have seen blue fireflies. In our back yard last year in North Port,Fl. (Sarasota County). I thought I was seeing things! ~ the first few blue flashes really surprised me. There is a preserve behind our house so it's dark out late at night.I watched from our screened in lanai. It was magical and hope I get to see it again.

Bonnie Gross

Monday 22nd of May 2017

From what I was told about the fireflies at Blue Spring State Park, they were present for about three weeks. Not sure if that will be true for yours. But thanks you for sharing.

Kelly

Saturday 29th of April 2017

When I was a child, they were so thick it seemed a nightly occurrence. I remember watching them from my bedroom window until I would fall asleep. We would ride horses in the evening through swarms of them down in the orange groves. We would see who could trap the most in a jar. (yes, they were released alive and flashing).

50+ years later, I wondered why I never see them anymore. I was digging around for an answer and found this article. Thank you.

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