Fireflies in Florida?

Overlooked bioluminescent beetles

“I’ve lived in Florida for decades and have never seen fireflies.”
“I’ve seen them up north, but never here.”
“Fireflies? I don’t think we have fireflies in Florida…”

These are common statements I hear when I bring up the topic of fireflies in the Sunshine state.

In reality, there are over fifty species of fireflies in Florida, more than in any other U.S. state! They live in forests, grasslands, and wetlands, from the mangroves of the Florida Keys and the rivers of grass in the Everglades to the salt marshes of the Panhandle and the dry scrub and pine habitats of central and northern Florida. Fireflies are even found in Florida’s cities, where parks provide enough natural habitat and darkness for them to persist.

Dozens of yellow firefly flashes fill the understory of a dark forest.
Florida single snappy fireflies (Photuris congener) light up the understory of a forest in Gainesville, Florida, with quick, yellowish flashes emitted every half second. Image credit: Oliver Keller.

Close relatives of fireflies, the bioluminescent click beetles, are also found in Florida and are encountered more frequently, especially in south Florida. These glowing insects are known by various common names, such as headlight beetle or fire beetle in English and cocuyo, cucubano, and carbunco in Spanish. Glowing click beetles emit light from two round lanterns on their thorax (toward the front of their body) rather than on their abdomen (toward their rear) in the case of fireflies.

A glowing click beetle has two shining green dots on its middle body segment.
Not a firefly, but a close cousin! Glowing click beetles have two round light organs toward the head. Photo: A Rector /iNaturalist CC BY-NC.

A hotspot for unique and threatened species

Some species in Florida defy the typical image that is conjured when you hear the word firefly or lightning bug. For example, the Florida scrub dark firefly, also known by its scientific name Lucidota luteicollis, has tiny light organs that it rarely uses. Instead, the black and orange males of this species find females (which are flightless and tucked into the sand) using their large, flattened antennae. The ant-loving scrub firefly, Pleotomodes needhami, which is endemic to central Florida, spends most of its life inside ant nests in sandy habitats. At night, adult females that resemble larvae glow from the ground while winged males search for them with large eyes.

A pale firefly with tiny, unusable wings.
A wingless ant-loving scrub firefly (Pleotomodes needhami). Photo: Richard Joyce/ Xerces Society.
A black and orange firefly with large, saw-toothed antennae.
A day-active Florida scrub firefly (Lucidota luteicollis). Photo: Brandon Woo.

In coastal mangroves and salt marshes, the Florida intertidal firefly, Micronaspis floridana, lives a life at the edge of the sea. The glowing larvae hunt for snails in the damp mud, sand, and leaf litter near the high-tide line, and adults begin flying as darkness falls, blinking over marshes and among mangroves roots.

A grub-like firefly larva with spiked plates on its back crawls across wet sand and emits two greenish lights from its back end.
A larva of the Florida intertidal firefly (Micronaspis floridana) emits a greenish glow while crawling around the upper edges of salt marshes and mangroves. Photo: Richard Joyce / Xerces Society.

Are there fireflies in your backyard? In your local park?

Protecting fireflies begins with knowing that they are there to protect. Because of their small size, nocturnal behavior, and often brief adult life-stages, fireflies can remain undetected by land managers and community members. The Firefly Atlas invites you to explore your yard, property, or park with fresh eyes to help improve our collective knowledge of Florida’s lightning bugs and to strengthen our stewardship of these amazing insects.

A person's hands are seen holding a flyer over a boardwalk railing, with water and mangrove roots in the background. The flyer says "Have you seen this rare firefly?" and has photos of a firefly species.
You don’t need to be an expert to survey for fireflies. The Firefly Atlas provides the resources and guidance for anyone to collect meaningful firefly data. Photo: Richard Joyce / Xerces Society.

From anonymity to appreciation and advocacy

Whether you grew up calling them fireflies, lightning bugs, luciérnagas, blinkies, or peeny-wallies, watching them in awe is a cherished and magical experience, one that many parents and grandparents hope to share with their children and grandchildren. To enjoy fireflies into the future, we will need to address the threats that they face — habitat loss, light pollution, pesticides, and climate change. These are daunting challenges, but the magic of fireflies is a powerful motivator.

A firefly perches on a leaf, surrounded by darkness.
Fireflies like this Florida intertidal firefly (Micronaspis floridana) face an uncertain future, so the more lightning bug champions the better. Photo: Richard Joyce / Xerces Society.


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This is a project of the Xerces Society, working in collaboration with the IUCN SSC Firefly Specialist Group and New Mexico BioPark Society.

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