SEBRING - When Highlands Hammock State Park's Park Manager Brian Pinson moved to Highlands County more than a year and a half ago and he first noticed the fireflies twinkling in the darkness on the park trails, he thought the community needed to see this.
No park ranger in the past has dared to welcome the public out to see the light show because of the unpredictability of the bugs. But not Pinson.
With the help of the Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park, the park's fundraising arm, Pinson is arranging evening tram tours at the park to take the public out to see the fireflies.
Pinson said he noticed the first few fireflies three weeks ago, and the numbers have increased to thousands.
Pinson noted that they taste disgusting, asking tram riders to not ask how he knew this. He said frogs and lizards have been known to spit fireflies back out because of their unpleasant taste.
Lightning bugs do not have many natural predators, but their numbers have dwindled because of land development, light pollution and other human interactions, which is why places to view them are limited. But nature preserves like Highlands Hammock are an ideal spot to see them.
Fireflies are actually beetles. According to Pinson, they are the most efficient form of light on the planet. The bugs release a chemical reaction that creates energy (light), not heat.
Pinson shared some more interesting facts about the bugs. It is estimated there are more than 2,000 species of fireflies. Twenty species are common in Florida, which is more than any other state. Their unique color flashes and light patterns help distinguish each species. One particular species only lights up for exactly 21 minutes. Females have no wings and stay on the ground, lighting up to signal mates.
Pinson is hoping to get a top researcher from the University of Florida to come to the state park to study the fireflies next year.
The evening tram tours consist of two trams that can carry a total of 60 people. Cost is $5 per person for all ages. The park entry fee is waived when you show your registration for that days event. Money generated from firefly events stays within Highlands Hammock.
To sign up for a tram tour, look up Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park on Facebook. Like their page and watch for posts about registration spots opening up for that day. Tram tours are not currently scheduled for every evening.
Some tips to prepare adults and kids: you may need bug spray or long sleeves; no glow sticks or flashlights are needed (lights make it difficult to see the fireflies); tram boarding is at 7:30 p.m. and riders return at 9 p.m.; no bathrooms along the way but there are bathrooms where tram loading and unloading occurs.
The tram makes as many as six stops so visitors can see the fireflies from their seats. At one stop, you can get off to walk in the Hammock and observe the lightning bugs. It is advised that visitors do not catch the fireflies.
This ground-level reflection of the stars up above may only be visible for a short time, which is why Pinson hopes the public will come out and experience Highlands Hammock's very own light show.