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Fireflies in Florida forest.

Where to Find Florida Fireflies

As the Florida sun sets low in the sky, it is time for one of Florida’s spectacular wonders. The nightly firefly show. In dark areas near waterways with tall grasses, shrubs, or trees, you can catch a glimpse of the elusive Florida fireflies (also known as lightning bugs). Dancing through the air, occasionally flashing their delicate lights, they communicate with each other about their location, to warn off predators, and to mate with other fireflies.

With increasing urbanization, there are fewer and fewer locations to view nature’s bioluminescent show. Firefly sightings have become so scarce that some Florida residents have never seen a firefly. However, some places in Florida remain untouched and far away from ambient lights, pesticides, and urban development.

Where to Look

Florida State Parks remain a haven for these wondrous creatures. Parks that offer camping or have firefly tours open to the public after sunset are a great place to look for fireflies in late spring and throughout summer. One example of a Florida State Park that offers camping is Lake Kissimmee State Park; their firefly season is usually from the end of February to April.

Blue Spring State Park and Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park offer firefly tours. Blue Spring’s firefly event is open for two weeks, varying in March and April, depending on the first firefly sightings of the season. This year the tour was a one-hour self-guided tour. In addition, guests could walk down the firefly trail to witness nature’s light show.

Medium shutter speed of firefly flash patterns in a Florida forest

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Every state park is different, and in each area, visitors can witness different fireflies. In Florida alone, there are 56 species of fireflies. Some can fly, others burrow into the ground, some can flash their light, and others are a constant glow. Some flash bright yellow and others green, and some age out of the ability to flash and glow. The key is finding a dark place with lots of natural cover such as a forest edge, tall grass, or shrubs, and if there is a water source like a stream or pond.

When to Look

Fireflies are in the taxonomic group Coleoptera (beetles), which means they are not actually flies. Each beetle, like humans, prefers a different habitat. If the firefly prefers purely aquatic food, then a lake, pond, stream, swamp, or marsh will house their food and young. Some prefer spaces with tall grasses or wooded areas with native plants to feed on.

UF Professor Marc Branham searching for fireflies.

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

The timing of the sightings is also a factor to consider when planning to see fireflies. The Florida firefly season starts in early spring through late summer. During the firefly season, some species can flash or glow all night. While others, according to Marc Branham, an Associate Professor of Entomology at the University of Florida, make an appearance for 23 minutes at a time. Knowing the species of firefly is another factor in the hunt for a firefly sighting.

The Florida Sprite, for instance, makes its appearance at sunset, lasting on average 30 minutes before vanishing again. According to Lynn Faust, author of Fireflies, Glow-worms, and Lightning Bugs, the Florida Sprite is most abundant in “April through May and again in July through August” (2017). In addition, the Florida Fishhook is most abundant during late spring (April – May) and late summer (August). These little guys can be seen eleven to twenty minutes after sunset.

The Lifecycle

Spotting fireflies can be difficult. The reason for this difficulty is the firefly lifecycle. Fireflies emerge into the adult stage for only 3-4 weeks before perishing. The firefly lifecycle has four stages called the egg, larvae, pupa, and adult stages. A firefly will remain an egg for three weeks or less, then emerge as larvae. In this stage, the firefly is a fearsome glowing predator: hunting snails, slugs, and other insect larvae. They also use a defensive numbing agent called lucibufagin.

The larvae stage lasts from one year to two, making their habitat conservation vital. Next, the firefly larvae grow into a pupa. The pupa stage is about transformation, of going from a larva into an adult firefly. A firefly can emerge from the pupa stage at the end of February through the end of summer in July into an adult firefly.

Firefly Identification

In the adult stage, a firefly can have a wide range of looks. For instance, according to Faust (2017), the Railroad-worm females are glowing worms. While the males are smaller in size, emit a faint glow, have feathery antennas, and fly, unlike the females. While the most common species in the Eastern United States is the Big Dipper J-Stroke ss has similar-looking males and females. Both genders of Big Dippers, on average, range from 10-14 mm in length, have a pink/red dot on their head shield with a black/brown dot in the center and two long antennas. For easy identification, the Big Dipper’s wing covers look similar to sunflower seed in coloring with a slimmer shape.

Another species found in Florida is the Florida Fishhook (Photinus collustrans). These little guys range from 5 to 11 mm and have similar shape and color markings to the Big Dipper. However, like the Railroad-worm, the Florida Fishhook females are flightless, wormlike, and pink and yellow in color. They are found all throughout Florida in grassy areas, sandy soil, and areas with scattered trees. Overall, Florida fireflies come in a wide range of appearances and flash patterns, with 56 species in the state alone, there is a healthy variety for Floridians to find.

Want to learn more about Fireflies in Florida? Check out our other blog post, “How to Create a Firefly Oasis.


Originally Published: June 5, 2021

This blog post was written by Natural Resources Extension Program Intern, Ms. Kaitlyn Harwell, under the supervision of Natural Resources and Conservation Extension Agent, Mrs. Shannon Carnevale.

University of Florida IFAS Extension is committed to diversity of people, thought and opinion, to inclusiveness and to equal opportunity.
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution. 

6 Comments on “Where to Find Florida Fireflies

  1. Very informative, when I was a child we would visit my grandmother in Chatham, Virginia and at night we would go out at night and catch firer fly’s in quart jars. Whoever catch the most got an extra scoop of grandma’s home churned peached ice cream. But we always had to release the fire flys after the chase and contest was over so we could have another game the next evening.

    • Thank you so much for sharing; I am glad this post has reminded you of fun times with your family. I also appreciate you mentioning releasing the fireflies the night you captured them. We always recommend releasing the fireflies the night of capture.

    • Unfortunately, since I do not know what part of Florida you want to find fireflies, it’s challenging to recommend a location. However, I suggest reaching out to the nearest state or national park and ask about their firefly populations. Or you can visit the parks mentioned in the blog post, above, during their advertised firefly tours to have a very good chance of firefly sightings. Another way to see fireflies is to safely conduct your very own firefly search within your surrounding area. All you would need to look for is a natural area with trees or tall grasses, which is dark and/or has a water source nearby. Remember, some firefly populations are only out for a few weeks a year and, some species will flash for 45 minutes or less. You may need to go out searching more than once. If you find some fireflies, consider posting your findings to iNaturalist.

  2. I can remember in the mid 60’s I was grade school and lived in east polk county well Haines City and during summer I remember as a kid about dusk dark you could go out and lightning bugs would be thick in the night air you could see them everywhere. And now I cant remember when the last time I seen one .but then I think back and remember the truck that would come around and spray mosquitoes we would ride behind the trucks on our bicycles like the little dumb kids we were it’s no wonder we dont glow in the dark .but I’m wondering if that spray truck might be why we dont see them like we used too .

    • James,
      Thanks for sharing that story! I hear similar ones, unfortunately, quite frequently. Fireflies are definitely still here in Polk! We saw a whole bunch a few weeks ago next to a wetland and lake in Mulberry. And, I’ve seen some in Winter Haven recently, too! Sadly, the story about declining firefly sightings is one heard worldwide…. including in areas without adequate mosquito control. Current research suggests that the most prominent cause of firefly decline is light pollution and habitat destruction. However, research does also suggest that we should reduce broadcast applications of generalist pesticides to help protect the larval stage of the firefly lifecycle, too!
      In the past few decades, mosquito control has advanced significantly, scientifically. I remember the fog trucks, too, from my childhood in the 90’s. Today, the chemicals used for mosquito control are much more specific pesticides than they used to be, targeting mosquitoes specifically. Fortunately, research shows they are impacting far fewer non-target species than pesticides of our past.
      That said, there are things that communities can do to reduce the impact on firefly populations when they need to control mosquitos:

      Focus community mosquito treatment on source reduction, or in other words, reduce containers and vessels that can collect standing water to reduce the number of breeding sites for mosquitoes.
      Avoid spraying generalist insecticides that target flying adults
      Use species-specific insecticides, only when and where neccessary
      Turn off area lighting that disrupts firefly mating cycles; change lights to motion sensors.

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