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.”
In 202, firefly viewing at the park is being held for two weeks, encompassing three weekends, beginning Friday, March 17 and continuing through April 2. 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 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.
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.
- Call the park for the schedule: 386-775-3663.
- Visiting Blue Spring State Park from Florida Rambler
- Blue Spring State Park website
Note: Unlike 2022, Highland Hammocks State Park in Sebring is not reporting fireflies.
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
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.