Living with Lovebugs
Florida scares off a number of potential residents due to the state’s “creepy-crawlie” factor: alligators, snakes, fire ants, mosquitoes, and numerous other animals and insets that many would prefer to avoid. Well, add another insect to the list: lovebugs.
Lovebugs look like something out of a science-fiction movie because there are almost always two joined together, appearing as a mutant insect created in a university’s mad-scientist lab (indeed, there’s an urban myth that that’s how they were created). Lovebugs may not be as well known as gators and others so-called pests because they come out in large numbers only for two brief periods each year–a few weeks in late April to May and again in August to September. In fact, adult females live only two to three days, dying after they mate. However, if you live in Florida during those times, you will definitely become acquainted with them.
Also called March flies, double-headed bugs, and surely other unprintable names, lovebugs come out in abundance those two times a year during their active mating season, although they can actually be found in the state most months of the year, according to a fact sheet from the University of Florida. The bugs are relatively small–think of lightning bugs–and fly together when forming a male/female pair and for mating. Sounds pretty simple, right?
The problem (for humans) is that they tend to congregate and die on cars. Additionally, their body fluids, particularly their eggs, leave unattractive white splats on car windows and front bumpers. They appear to like light-colored and freshly-painted surfaces best, but the University of Florida information says that they are also attracted to heat (emanating from cars and highways) and that the females are attracted to a component of auto exhaust fumes, surely another reason you find so many on cars. When you drive through lovebug-heavy parts of Florida this time of year, you’ll see some lighter colored cars just covered in the front with lovebugs. Despite rumors that their body fluids will immediately dissolve paint, you’re in good shape if you get your car washed within a day or two–and continue those frequent washings when their population flourishes.
Lovebugs, which are related to gnats and mosquitoes, do not bite and do not transmit contagious diseases. Instead, they are considered more of a nuisance than anything–something unattractive to see (although fun for kids to catch) until their swarming masses die out after a couple of weeks.
As for the myth that lovebugs were genetically engineered by the University of Florida to kill mosquitoes, it’s not true. They are herbivorous, are more common in the day versus the night, and don’t have the physiology of insects that eat other insects; for these reasons, they’d be poor candidates to be genetically engineered, according to the University of Florida. It’s also not true that the lovebugs escaped from the University of Florida (A science fiction B-movie coming soon: “Escape from the Lovebug Swarm!”). The insect actually reached across all of the Gulf States in the 1940s through the 1960s. Its population exploded throughout Florida and into South Carolina in the 1970s, purportedly due to winds, traffic, and sod transport.
In other news…
Two interesting Florida culture articles (unrelated to lovebugs):
1. An article in Florida Trend magazine (a great magazine for business and culture around the state) recently reported on the top 10 corporate landowners in Florida. There are a few timber companies on the list as well as Mosaic (the large phosphate company) and some sugar cane, cattle ranching, and citrus companies. The article was reprinted recently in the St. Petersburg Times.
2. See some great pictures and a nice article from St. Petersburg Times’s Jeff Klinkenberg about photographer Heather Green at the link below. She recently captured images of four wild panthers at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Why is that a big deal? The state only has approximately 120 panthers left and they are notriously elusive to find.
Also, see Green’s work at www.heathergreenphoto.com