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It’s firefly season in Central Florida. Wait, what’s firefly season?

Last updated on April 3rd, 2022 at 05:31 pm

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.

For 2022, Highland Hammocks State Park in Sebring also showcased its fireflies.

Here’s information on the two firefly programs at state parks:

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)

In 2022, firefly viewing at the park is being held for two weeks, encompassing three weekends, beginning Friday, March 18 and continuing through April 3. 2022. Every year, the exact dates are adjusted to reflect the schedule of the fireflies, which are influenced by weather.

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 a $10 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 at Highland Hammock State Park

At Highland Hammocks, firefly tram tours began on Tuesday, March 15 and will run each night through Monday, March 21, weather permitting. Tickets are available the day before and the day of the tour at the Hammock Inn Camp Store inside the park. Tickets are not available online but If you are unable to buy tickets in person at the store, you can purchase them over the phone with a credit card at 863-402-0061.

Tickets are $12 per adult, $7 for children 6-12. Children 5 and under are free of charge with paying adult but please note, this activity may not be appropriate for children under 3. (They may be frightened by the intense darkness and nature’s sounds. Once the tram leaves, it will not turn back for the duration of the tour.) Pets are not permitted.

The park entrance fee of $6 per carload will be waived after 6 p.m. Trams will load in the picnic circle, in front of the Hammock Inn, beginning at approximately 7:15 to 7:30 p.m. with departure at about 8 p.m. There is also ample parking in this area or just across the boardwalk in the campground overflow parking area.

The program is a project of the Friends of Highland Hammocks State Park.

Highland Hammock State Park, 5931 Hammock Rd, Sebring, FL 33872 (863) 386-6094

Fireflies in Florida
Fireflies in Florida

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: Camping, cabins, great kayak trip in wild setting

Places near Highland Hammocks State Park from Florida Rambler

Florida Rambler story about the CCC museum at Highland Hammocks State Park and the role of the CCC in building Florida’s parks.

Discover Lake Wales Ridge State Forest for hiking, exploring, camping

Kayaking Arbuckle Creek: Unexpected beauty at a bombing range

Exploring the Lake Wales Ridge: Central ‘highlands’ with old-fashioned flavor

Tiger Creek Preserve helps make Lake Wales Ridge a hiker’s heaven

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


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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.

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.

Brenda Brookshire

Tuesday 4th of April 2017

Never seen blue fireflies. Green or Yellow...but now I want to find these! This time last year I experienced a magical twinkling forest at Ft. Clinch. I am setting out next weekend to try to find this again, on the Georgia Golden Isles. Maybe too soon, since it's further North. It was so beautiful, like a dream.

Bob Stokes

Tuesday 10th of January 2017

Bob Stokes Just wanted to let everyone know that the blue lighting bugs are gone , They were there for about a week an 1/2 . I would like to know if anyone has ever seen them in fl before?

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.

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