With tourist season dwindling down, lovebug season is just, ah-hem, heating up. Lovebugs are from the family of insects known as March flies. They go by several names such as honeymoon flies, united bugs, double-headed bugs, and a host of other monikers that should not be repeated in polite company. There are multiple myths surrounding lovebugs. Any freshly indoctrinated resident to Florida might be told that lovebugs were created by researchers in a lab at the University of Florida. If that kind of genetic engineering were possible, wouldn’t we come up with something better than an annoying pest? While lovebugs certainly fall under the nuisance pest category, they do have some ecological significance. Lovebugs tend to congregate near highways, among other places, and at one point, they were so bad in Florida that drivers would have to pull off the roads to clean their cars so that they could see out the windshields. Thankfully these nuisance pests are less of a problem today than they were just 50 years ago. There is a lot of misinformation when it comes to lovebugs. So what exactly is the purpose of lovebugs, and for crying out loud, how can I get the casualties off my car?
What is a Lovebug?
The most popular myth surrounding lovebugs is that they escaped the labs at the University of Florida after genetic engineering created them to eat mosquitoes. The truth is lovebugs or Plecia nearctica¸ come from Central America and have spread across the Gulf region from Texas to Florida and north to South Carolina since the 1920s. They were first discovered in Florida in 1949. Lovebugs are related to mosquitoes and gnats. However, these insects are members of the Bibionidae family, which includes nearly 700 various species of flies. The lifespan of an adult lovebug is just 3-4 days. Long enough to emerge from the ground, then mate, feed, and lay more eggs. These annoying little insects are black with a distinctive bright red thorax. They do not bite or sting. Males are about ¼” in length, while females measure slightly smaller at 1/3″ length. There are two peak mating seasons for lovebugs, each lasting about four weeks, in late April through May and again in late August through September. However, lovebugs can be found at any time throughout the year, though they are typically not found in November. Lovebug swarms are higher after particularly rainy seasons, as these bugs prefer humid climates and temperatures above 84°. Swarms are generally worse during the day from about 10 AM-4 PM, so if you want to save the paint on your car, it is best to avoid highways during this time.
Lovebugs go through a lifecycle consisting of 4 stages. Adult females lay around 300-400 eggs at a time, which grows for about 2-4 days. Groups of 1000 or more can be found in grassy areas near the roots. In the larva stage, which lasts 120 days in summer and 240 days in winter, they consume decaying vegetation for survival. This moist soil helps to create the pupae, which then begin to dig their way toward the surface, assisting in soil aeration. After 7-9 days, the adults emerge from the ground and within minutes begin mating as the life span at this stage is only 3-5 days. Immediately following copulation, the males die off, and the females lay their eggs. Females can mate with several males before their demise.
What is the purpose of a lovebug?
Believe it or not, lovebugs do have ecological importance. In the larval stage, they behave much in the same way maggots do, breaking down decaying vegetation and recycling organic matter. Adult lovebugs lay their eggs in moist areas of this decaying vegetation and under cow piles. This act helps these materials break down and turn into soil. As the larva becomes a pupa and begin to dig their way out as adults, more vegetation is consumed and broken down. As adults emerge from the ground for mating, the very act helps to aerate the soil allowing rain to penetrate the ground. Adults do find time in their active coupling to feed on nectar, like bees, thus ensuring pollination of new plants.
How to control lovebug populations
One of the myths surrounding lovebugs is that they have no natural predators. This statement is not true at all. From fungi to animal life, lovebugs have plenty of natural predators. The fungi Beauveria bassina is a naturally occurring fungus found in soil throughout the world. It is parasitic to numerous arthropod species, including lovebugs. The mortality rate for lovebugs from this fungus alone is nearly 30%. Since adult females lay their eggs in decaying vegetation and grassy fields, birds and lizards also feed on lovebug pupae. In Texas, is has been reported that armadillos will also feed on lovebug pupae. Spiders, praying mantis, and other arthropods will also feed on these insects.
Another common myth is that regular pesticides will not work on lovebugs. Again, this is false information. Any insecticide formulated to help control fly populations will also work on lovebugs. There are plenty of DIY recipes as well. One Florida woman posted that placing water in a bright dish with a few drops of baby oil inside will eradicate lovebug swarms. While lovebugs are attracted to light and light-colored surfaces, this is yet another myth. Because swarming adults are dense in population, any outdoor method of this sort will prove ineffective as more lovebugs will appear despite efforts. In a contained space (such as inside a screened porch), this method may prove to be adequately effective, so long as you don’t have plants in the area with more maturing pupae present. Sadly, these two peak seasons of mating lovebugs are just an annoyance than many southern residents must contend.
More common myths
Lovebugs breath carbon monoxide
Lovebugs do not breathe carbon monoxide. They are, however, attracted to a UV irradiated aldehydes, which is present in automobile exhaust. This is likely due to females confusing the scent with decaying plant materials while searching for suitable nesting grounds. Heat also attracts lovebugs, so the combination of black tar surfaces, engine exhaust, and the hot Florida sun, make roadways a natural attractant for lovebugs, and a pain for car owners.
Lovebug juices are acidic
There is no evidence that the guts of lovebugs are acidic in nature. The eggs that females carry, however, combined with bacterial action of decaying carcasses, increases acidity. It is best to rinse off your car daily during peak lovebug seasons to avoid damage to the exterior of your vehicle.
They were bred/created to eat mosquitos
The researchers at the University of Florida, although leaders in the field of entomology, are not responsible for the creation or genetic modification of lovebugs. They are not some genetically modified experiment gone wrong. Lovebugs did not escape labs and mass produce once outside. They were not studied nor created to help ease mosquito populations. They feed on nectar, not other insects. As lovebug populations proliferate, habitat becomes premium. Therefore, Mother Nature alone is to blame for the spread of lovebugs from Central America into the Southern United States.
Lovebugs only exist in Florida
Lovebugs can be found as far south as Costa Rica and north to South Carolina. They are also found in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. A similar species, Plecia Americana, is also found in slightly more northern temperate climates into North Carolina. However, this species does not generally comingle with human populations and sticks to forested areas. Some have also been found throughout California, though not in desert climates.
Lovebugs are attracted to homes
As previously explained, lovebugs are attracted to heated surfaces, which is why they congregate on highways. But they are also attracted to freshly painted surfaces and light-colored surfaces, which is why many homeowners believe them to be attracted to their homes.
What can I do to protect my car?
There are several methods of washing bug residue from your vehicle’s exterior. A simple soaking of water for about 5 minutes, combined with soapy wash within 15-20 minutes after, should take care of the problem.
Keeping your car waxed, especially during peak mating seasons, will also help to keep the cars paint in top shape.
To ease removal, consider applying a light layer of baby oil to your vehicle’s exterior over the hood, above the windshield, and on the grill and bumper areas.
Avoid driving during daylight hours. Peak mating happens from about 8 AM-10 AM and again at dusk from about 4 PM-8 PM. Sadly, these are also peak driving times. Perhaps you can ask your boss to work remotely during these hours in the lovebug season?
Use a bug defector fitted to your vehicles hood. These bug guards help deflect the bugs up and over your car, instead of into the grille. A screen placed over the front of the grille will help keep radiators from being clogged as well. These can be purchased at your local auto parts store, on Amazon, or through your manufacturer’s website.
Use a bug & tar remover formulated for tough stains. We recommend Lifter 1 Bug & Tar Remover
If you think lovebugs are bad now, you should read about how bad they were in the late 60’s & early 70’s here in Tampa Bay and Orlando. Humans perceive lovebugs as one of the top peskiest insects in the Gulf States. One could take solace that lovebug mating season does signify changing seasons, from spring to summer and summer to fall. But, lovebugs aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. The best you can do is appreciate them for their contributions to our living planet and take precautions to avoid damage to your vehicle.
University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology:
Sunny Sports Outdoor Blog: