Floridians are finding it hard to socially distance themselves from lovebugs. These pesky, pestering insects can’t stay 6 inches away from people, let alone 6 feet. In recent days, people have noticed a heavier community presence of lovebugs, which get their name from their appearance of two insects mating with each other. While harmless to people, the bugs’ contact with vehicles can damage paint jobs, if not washed off, because of their acidic bodies, giving them a nuisance image.
Why are lovebugs everywhere?
Right now, we’re in the middle of the lovebugs’ twice-annual mating season, which lasts roughly four weeks in May and four weeks in September, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
They exist year-round, but the two mating seasons are when they’re seen in the greatest numbers.
This year’s spring wave of lovebugs feels greater than previous years because a mild winter favored more of the bugs hatching and maturing, said Jim Davis, director of the UF/IFAS Sumter County Extension Office.
“We really didn’t have a significant freeze event that could have a big effect (on lovebug populations),” he said.
University research found lovebugs are most common from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and like hot temperatures of 84 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Although they may be annoying, they pose no harm to humans because they do not sting, bite or carry diseases, according to UF/IFAS. For that reason, entomologists don’t recommend people use pest control to get rid of lovebugs.
Why do they make a mess on my car?
Lovebugs are so messy because their body fluids are slightly acidic, according to UF/IFAS.
When left untouched, those fluids can damage the paint on a vehicle.
They’re attracted to vehicles because the smell of their exhaust fumes is similar to the smell of decomposing plant debris that lovebugs eat, and the bugs often confuse the two smells.
So, is it true they have a purpose other than to annoy people twice a year?
Believe it or not, yes. The larva of lovebugs eat decaying organic material like dead leaves, grass clippings and manure, according to UF/IFAS. It supports the environment by breaking down this material into nutrients for soil that supports plant growth.
And the adult lovebugs are pollinators, just like bees and butterflies. They feed on the nectar and pollen of flowers, supporting the process of pollination where plants fertilize and produce seeds.
Is it true that the University of Florida purposely created them to prey on mosquitoes?
When lovebugs resurface in Florida’s environment, so too does this urban legend.
But Davis, who’s been asked about it countless times in his career by virtue of his background — he graduated from UF with a major in entomology — said lovebugs arrived in Florida from Central America. They migrated through Texas and Louisiana before arriving here.
Scientists reported observing lovebugs in the U.S. since at least the 1930s, according to UF/IFAS. It’s likely they first got here by natural range expansion or were accidentally introduced.