Ahhhh... the lovebug! If you live in Florida or in the Southeast, you are currently being inundated by swarms of lovebugs flying around your vehicle. These insects often end up splatted on your windshield and front grill. Many of the cars coming off the highway are covered in insect gunk. You may be thinking, "Do these critters have a death wish?" Well, there is a reason for everything... read on.
Let's step back a moment and learn about these critters. The lovebug (Plecia nearctica Hardy) is a species of fly that happens to flutter about as a male and female attached together. Both sexes are a dull black with a red blotch just behind the head. What are they doing flying around in tandem? Essentially the male has copulated with the female and remains attached to keep other males away. The female is looking for a place to lay her eggs, and she lays about 100-300 eggs in the soil under decaying organic matter (e.g., rotting leaves and grasses). After hatching out, the larvae eat the decaying vegetation. Lovebugs are so numerous because conditions are perfect in the Southeast -- essentially warm, wet weather. Plus, lovebugs are reported to be bitter and do not have many natural enemies. The red patch behind the head may be a warning coloration.
But why are they attracted to roads and vehicles? As it turns out -- tests have shown that lovebugs are attracted to automobile exhaust that has been irradiated with UV light (i.e., sunlight). Why? It has been proposed that the chemicals in car exhaust, aldehydes and formaldehydes, are similar to the chemicals released by decaying organic matter. Even heat is an attractant for lovebugs and heat radiating off asphalt may be attracting these insects. Thus, the lovebugs are not stupid, per se. Roads are warm and have accumulated an abundance of automobile exhaust, mimicking areas that are appropriate for lovebugs to lay their eggs. Lovebugs are tricked into swarming along roads and around vehicles!
The lovebugs have two major eruptions within a year. The first one is late April/May, and lasts about 4 weeks. These adults lay their eggs, the larvae grow, and the next generation of adults emerge August/September. In turn, these adults lay their eggs, the larvae grow much more slowly over the winter, and the adults emerge April/May.
There have been claims that the lovebug gunk, when left on the car, will etch the paint on a car. The gunk that is left on the car does become slightly acidic and if left on for an extended time, it is difficult to remove and may damage the finish. The best solution is to wax the car before taking it out during lovebug season and to remove the splats within 24 hours.
And for those of you in Florida, University of Florida researchers did not genetically engineer lovebugs to kill mosquitoes and researchers did not bring them into Florida. This lovebug species migrated from Louisiana and reached Florida by 1949.
And how can you tell one lovebug splat from another insect? There is a book out there on how to identify that "Gunk on Your Car." Also, a researcher has discovered how to take the DNA out of the gunk and identify the insects that have splatted on the car. Interesting - no?
Lovebugs are here to stay. Just give your car a good wax job before the onset of lovebug season and the splats on your car will come off relatively easy. I for one marvel at what Mother Nature produces -- and hey -- these little buggers are actually cute if you take time to look at them.