Lovebugs can be SO annoying. In May, and again this time of year (September), hordes of the small, fragile insects float through the air, searching for mates. They are harmless—no biting or stinging—but definitely a bit strange.
So, what are lovebugs, exactly? What is going on when they start swarming all over?
Lovebugs are a fly species (Plecia nearctica) native to states along the Gulf of Mexico. They are less than a half inch long, with females slightly larger than males. They are solid black except for a spot of deep red on their thorax. Lovebugs migrated west from Texas, making their way all the way to South Carolina. There are large populations in Central America, as well. Despite a persistent rumor that somehow the University of Florida created and released lovebugs into the environment, we had nothing to do with it! The species was documented in Texas in the early 1940’s. Interestingly, the first lovebug collected and recorded in Florida was here in Escambia County—back in 1949. By the time UF biologists started studying them, the flies had already established populations statewide.
Those large annual congregations in May and September represent two different generations of the species. The “love” in their common name comes from them typically being seen mating, a process lasting up to 12 hours. Lovebug mating can be competitive; males will often try to fight off a male already mating with a female, and researchers have observed up to 10 males hanging onto a female to “win” her affection. After mating and laying several hundred eggs, adult lovebugs only live around 3-4 days. Lovebug offspring hatch about 3 weeks after eggs are laid, and larvae spend the next 4 to 8 months eating decaying vegetation. After getting their fill, the insects pupate and become adults within a week.
They are a hassle on road trips—traveling nearly any distance during lovebug season typically results in the grill and windshield of your car being shellacked with lovebug carcasses. According to research, lovebugs are attracted to the heat and vibrations of vehicles, along with the exhaust fumes, attracting millions to the roadsides. Leaving lovebugs on a car for too long can cause permanent damage to a paint job or clog a radiator, so be aware and clean them up if you travel during their swarms. Traveling at night can cut down on bug hits, as lovebugs tend to rest after sunset.