They’re back smashed on my car’s windshield, headlights, hood and grill. Floridians are calling it the worst invasion ever. I can attest to multitudes flying in and around the coastal garden. They are so bothersome that I am once again informing you readers about the how, when, where and why of these small black insects, commonly known as lovebugs.
Although extremely annoying, the lovebug is a non-biting member of the family of March flies (deer flies). Deer flies are bloodsucking, biting flies troublesome to livestock and humans. If you live anywhere near the marsh, you are very familiar with these. Lovebugs are the odd members that don’t harm us. Instead, they do more harm when hit by vehicles moving at high speeds through a swarm of them. Their crushed bodies smear the windshield with sticky residue and reduce visibility. If encountered in large numbers, lovebugs can clog the vehicle radiator air passages and cause overheating. Having grown up with the pesky critters in Louisiana, as well as living with them through 34 years in coastal Georgia, I can also attest to the fact that the delayed washing of the dead bodies from one’s vehicle results in a great deal of effort to remove them. Some 25 years ago, I wrote the vice president of consumer relations of Chrysler to complain about the damage done to the paint on my newly purchased car, that could be seen as the lovebugs were scraped away. His response then was that I should have washed off the dead bodies as soon after impact as possible, because their bodies contain an acid that etches and pits paint. Freshly killed lovebugs are not acidic, but the bacteria growing on the squished eggs of the females will result in acidity over two to three days. Supposedly, car paint and protective coatings combat lovebug damage today. Well, let’s see what my 2017 car finish looks like after it is washed today. The bug bodies have been on it for several days.
Lovebugs were originally described in Texas in the 1920s as coming in from Central and South America. Over time, the lovebug has slowly migrated across the Gulf States into Georgia and South Carolina. In 2006, they were documented as far north as Wilmington, N.C. Lovebugs spend five to seven months of their lives as larvae in leaf litter feeding in the thatch layer of grass and in other decayed vegetation. Dry seasons and parasitic fungi usually kill a number of the larvae. However, following a rainy period in conjunction with reduced parasitic fungi activity, the adults will emerge in large swarms twice yearly, in late spring and again in the early fall. Increased rainfall this spring boded well for their survival and subsequent heavy emergence in May. The mating adults are constantly landing on me when working outside and it’s a bit unnerving to have them crawling on my arms and legs and landing in my hair. Adults feed on nectar, so that explains their presence in the garden.
Lovebug flights extend over four to five weeks. However, life is short. Therefore, mating occurs immediately after flight begins. Once paired for mating, the couple remains paired for several days. Hence they were given the commonly accepted name, lovebug. After mating the male dies within two to five days. The female detaches herself to lay her eggs and dies within a week. It cannot be determined how well mating went. As mentioned above, local environmental conditions (dry or wet, presence of parasitic fungi or not) will determine if the next scheduled emergence this fall will have a greater impact or a far smaller one than now. Two interesting facts about lovebugs are that they don’t fly at night, and that they are actually attracted to heat, light-colored surfaces and to our highways by vehicular vibration, hot engines and exhaust.
I do have two questions left unresolved. When do they find time to feed on nectar if mating lasts for hours, and who steers the ship when the male/female combo is flying? I’m betting on the female. She’s probably more willing to stop and ask directions.