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Love is in the air: It’s hard to avoid lovebugs in Florida

By on September 4th, 2012

Not everything you read on the Internet is true, so be careful what you read.

Colby Perry / Flickr

Contrary to popular belief, lovebugs were not created in a UF lab; instead, they migrated to the U.S. from Central America.

Especially about lovebugs.

Ever heard the story that UF researchers developed the lovebug and then accidentally released it into the wild to take down mosquitoes?

It’s false.

Lovebugs were first spotted in Florida in the 1940s but reached “explosive populations” in the ‘70s. In fact, the bugs migrated up the coast of Central America and into the Gulf States.

Lovebugs must be attracted to automobile. That’s why they become splattered across windshields and bumpers, right?

Mostly wrong.

Lovebugs really enjoy things that rot; females who have mated already find themselves drawn toward places rich with cow manure, dead leaves, grass clippings and plenty of moisture. These locations are perfect places for lovebug eggs.

The bugs are also intrigued by UV irradiated aldehydes and and heat — two things found in most automobile exhaust fumes.

Are lovebugs nearly resistant to death-by-insecticides?

Well, not necessarily.

Plenty of common insecticides will kill a lovebug or two, but widespread use of chemicals can be harmful for people and their pets. Not to mention, lovebugs will just come right back, thanks to their large numbered population.

That’s the bug, the myth, the legend: the lovebug.

Professor Norman C. Leppla wrote about these mysterious, and often lied about, pests in a UF Department of Entomology and Nematology fact sheet for his department, the Florida Cooperative Extension Service and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

His fact sheet, titled “Living with Lovebugs,” debunked commonly misconstrued opinions of lovebugs, which are also called March flies.

Don’t let the name fool you, though, as lovebugs are most often found in August through September and April through May.

Love them. Love them not.

So, why are these bugs so hated? Adult lovebugs only live long enough to make more lovebugs, which is about three to four days; some pairs will stay attached together for up to five weeks before disappearing.

Professor D.E. Short, also in the UF Department of Entomology and Nematology, listed some pros and cons for these bugs.

Pro: Lovebug larvae help plants grow.

Because their eggs are laid near decaying plants, once hatched, the larvae “perform a beneficial function by converting the plant material into organic components which can again be used by the growing plants,” said Short in a publication titled “Lovebugs in Florida.”

Con: Lovebugs are found all over cars.

Windshields are smeared, grills are filled. These problems could hinder vision and cause motor systems to break down.

“They also get into refrigeration equipment on trucks causing them to overheat,” Short said.

Pro: More and more predators are taking out the bugs

Though there are still two peak generations of lovebugs each year, the location of the larvae make them vulnerable to birds. Larvae have also been found in the “gizzards of robins and quail,” Short said.

Spreading the Love

There is more water in the area thanks to the recent tropical storms, but that won’t necessarily bring more lovebugs around.

“A lot of standing water will cause a lower population because the larvae will drown,” said Leppla in an interview with WUFT.org.

Standing water does allow for more mosquitoes. Florida doesn’t have the same kind of worry that other states do, as the first case of a human in Florida infected with the West Nile virus in 2012 was just confirmed on Aug. 31 — a month later than other U.S. states.
If standing water is removed from an area, that will eliminate an immediate threat for mosquitos and other pests, according to National Geographic.

Nearly 200 cases of the West Nile virus have been recorded in Dallas County, Texas, according to the New York Times; about 10 deaths were also recorded.

This led to the mayor of Dallas declared a state of emergency for the area in early August.

“I’ve been getting a lot of calls about standing water and mosquitoes, but it’s not a problem here like it is in the Dallas area,” Leppla said.

All outta love

Daniel Oines / Flickr

Lovebugs are a nuisance pest, but they can't help it. Many people express their distaste for them as seen here on a sign in Port Richey, FL.

There may not be a surefire way to get rid of lovebugs, but the “best strategy is avoidance and patience,” Leppla said.

“Our pest control companies tell companies tell customers don’t need to use pesticides on the adults,” said Leppla. He’s happy that the companies aren’t letting people spray unnecessary chemicals that might also affect other species. “So, they are very good about telling them to just avoid the lovebugs.”

Avoiding the bugs isn’t hard to do, according to Leppla.

“Use a box fan to keep them away from you,” said Leppla. “Take them off as quickly as you can from your car. Some people like to use clothes dryer sheets, but they leave kind of a mess they have to clean up.”

It’s important to get them off of vehicles as soon as possible to avoid any damage the bugs might do to the paint or the interior.

“Eventually they’ll chip the paint if they’re allowed to cook in the sun,” Leppla said.


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