Florida is a beautiful place to visit, with white sand beaches, many lakes, and other forms of natural beauty. However, once the sun goes down, Florida’s light show is just beginning. Florida is home to 56 species of firefly, and each species provides its own unique light show. Some species prefer laying in the tall grasses with a constant glow, while others are blinking and moving about the area. A firefly show is a sight to behold and can be found in natural areas with no artificial light, a water source, and plenty of natural foliage. With firefly populations declining due to habitat loss and decreasing dark spaces, here is how to create a firefly oasis near your home.
Turn Off the Lights
Areas with streetlights, passing cars, landscaping lights, and other artificial sources of light disturb fireflies. According to Firefly Conservation & Research, a passing car’s headlight can throw off a firefly’s flashes and ruin a mating ritual. This is because the different movements, colors, and flashes of fireflies allow males and females to communicate. So, a passing car’s headlights distort a firefly’s communication like a person driving through a tunnel. The tunnel disrupts a person’s cellphone call, disrupting the person’s conversation to incomprehensible words, and the conversation ends.
So, the first step to creating a firefly oasis is to turn off the lights. Any exterior lights such as floodlights, porch lights, landscaping, pool lights, or floodlights need to be off for the fireflies. Another option is to install motion sensor lights. This will still provide the security of exterior lights and help fireflies by maintaining darkness.
Find a Space
Once the artificial lighting is reduced, locate an area to dedicate to fireflies. This area should have light foot traffic or is secluded to avoid fireflies from being trampled on. If in a backyard, a section or corner of the yard will work. If you live next to a freshwater lake or river, consider a spot close to the water’s edge.
Add a Water Source
If the area you have chosen is near a lake, stream, pond, or canal, then there is no need to add a water feature. If the area does not have water, then add a garden water fountain or pond for the fireflies.
Some species of firefly can begin their lives as aquatic, semi-aquatic, or use water as their hunting grounds. A firefly’s food source can include snails, slugs, and other insect larvae, according to UF IFAS Gardening Solutions (2015). If firefly larvae are found within/around the oasis’s water source, the larvae will stay for up to 2 years before becoming adult fireflies. With this in mind, no chemicals must come into the area. Chemicals such as chlorine, insect poison, herbicide, and chemical fertilizers can be harmful and deadly to fireflies. In addition, a pool or hot tub with chlorine will not sustainably attract fireflies.
Fireflies need native plants to survive. A wooded area does not need any plant additions, but a manicured backyard will need some additions. Florida native grasses, shrubs, and trees are good additions to attract fireflies.
One plant that can be added to the area is milkweed. A study done by Lynn Faust presented at the 2014 International Firefly Symposium found that the common milkweed, the scientific name Asclepias syriaca, was a food source for fireflies. Firefly species such as Photinus Pyralis, Photoinus Cookie, Pyropyga Minuta, Photuris sp. were tested in the study and proved to eat the milkweed plant.
Lastly, the foliage in this area must remain untouched by chemicals as well. Sprays designed to kill insects, weeds, and chemical fertilizers have harmful effects on the fireflies and lead to death.
Leave it to Nature
Once the firefly oasis is established with a water source and native plants, it is time to leave it to nature. According to Firefly Conservation & Research (2021), this is because some firefly larvae prefer “rotting wood and forest litter at the margins of ponds and streams.”
Fireflies, especially the females, love to rest and hide within tall Florida native grasses, shrubs, and trees. So, mowing this area will not be necessary, and neither will be spraying pesticides or fertilizers, as previously mentioned. While the firefly oasis is growing, be on the lookout for invasive plant species, and if any are found, be sure to pull the plants by hand. It’s much easier to prevent invasive plant issues than to fix them after the fact.
Spread the Word
To further help the declining firefly populations, speak to neighbors, classmates, or anyone around you. Fireflies are in danger of losing their habitats due to development and decreasing dark areas. The more people that help create firefly oases and turn off their exterior lights, the more firefly sightings there will be.
Want to learn more about Fireflies in Florida? Check out our other blog post, “Where to Find Florida Fireflies.”
- UF IFAS Gardening Solutions. (May 15, 2015). Fireflies. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/gardening-with-wildlife/fireflies.html
- University of Florida IFAS Extension. (n.d.). How to Attract Fireflies for Homeowners. http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/images/fireflies-graphic.pdf
- Morse, J. (July 2015). Fabulous Fireflies and You. The Dirt, Pinellas Master Gardener Magazine. 2, 3-5. https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/pinellas/lawn-and-garden/TheDirtJuly2015.pdf
- Firefly Conservation Research. (2021). Disappearing Fireflies. https://www.firefly.org/why-arefireflies-disappearing.html
- Faust, L. (August 11- 15, 2014). Milkweed Fireflies: The Occurrence and Behaviors of 4 Adult North American Fireflies, Photinus Pyralis, Photinus Cooki, Pyropyga Minuta and Photuris Sp. On Milkweed Asclepias Syriaca. https://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/firefly/Program%20BOOK%202014.pdf
- Firefly Conservation Research. (2021) How to help. https://www.firefly.org/how-you-can-help.html
Originally Published on June 12, 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.
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