The not-so-loveable lovebug

Published 1:17 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Plecta narctica is the fancy name for the lovebug. It also has such romantic names as the honeymoon fly, the kiss bug and love time.

Local residents call them the demon bug.

Entomologists describe them as small black flies with red thoraxes. Males are quarter inch, and females are one-third inch in length.

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The earliest reference to lovebugs was in 1920, in Louisiana. The next mention to these pesky creatures was in Texas in 1940. They were first reported in Florida in 1947 in Escambia County. After that, they just spread, huge flocks of them flying through the air or riding on vehicles from Louisiana to Texas, to Mississippi, and on and on. As recent as 2006, they were reported as far north as North Carolina. Now, most of the south has these bugs with the heaviest concentration along the Gulf of Mexico.

The worst infestation was in 1970, when Florida had a very bad problem with the bugs as they converged in outrageous numbers all over the state.

The spreading of the love bug is done in various ways like when sod is taken from one place to another. Or live lovebugs hitch a ride on autos and trucks. They also migrate.

They feed on the nectar of flowering plants especially goldenrod and sweet clover. Usually lovebugs restrict their activity to daylight hours, mostly from 10 a.m. to dusk and temperatures above 68 degrees. At night they spend their time on low-growing vegetation such as grasses.

The life cycle of the love bug begins when the mature male and female mate. This is done immediately after maturing because females only live about four days. Urgently she attaches herself to the rear of the abdomen of the male. They remain that way at all times, even in flight. Now they spend their entire remaining life making little lovebug. Then after mating, the male dies. The female then drags the male around with her until she lays her eggs.

Females lay up to 350 eggs in grass thatches. Then, in around 20 days, the eggs hatch to larvae. In this stage they live up to nine months.

The lovebug has two major flights of migration. One in the late spring and a second in the late summer. These flights last about four to five weeks. These undulating clouds of bugs can number in the hundreds of thousands. Their movements are slow and look like drifting clouds in the sky.

Lovebug adults are attracted to light-colored surfaces, especially if they are freshly painted. They also love exhaust fumes from vehicles and the smell of hot asphalt in the afternoon.

The lovebug has a well-deserved bad reputation.

In the adult form these bugs do not bite or sting but they do cause havoc and destruction. Mainly, this is because of their acid body chemistry. They sure do make a mess. This is especially true for vehicles.

Since these airborne menaces accumulate is such huge crowds, they wreak havoc on cars and trucks. They smear and die in mass on auto windshields, hoods and radiator grills. When you see their tell-tale smear of white on your windshield, these are the eggs that the female was carrying before she turned into a hood ornament.

If these smelly, acidity bugs are left on your car, they are extremely difficult to remove. If left too long, their acid can discolor and pit paint and chrome.

Luckily, their have been great advances in the paint used on vehicles and the acid doesn’t penetrate as quickly as in the past! Now the greatest threat to your vehicle is that in excess they can clog the radiator and do damage to your cooling system.

You can remove the bug bodies and eggs by using dish detergent and water. If the mess has been their a long time you may need a soft brush.

Lovebugs do have an enemy in the form of fungus and dry weather. The funguses that grow in decaying grasses destroy the larvae. Dry weather also cuts down on the lovebug population by drying out the larvae.

When the weather is dry, the bugs migrate back to the swamplands in Louisiana and on down the Gulf Coast. Also, the droughts of recent years have played an active role to drying up the larvae.

Lovebugs are not a favored food for most birds and insects because of their sour, acid taste. However, quail and robins seemed to have acquired a taste for them. Also, spiders, earwigs, beetles and centipedes have recently had them as No. 1 on their menu.

I know, but I got to tell you that they do serve a purpose other than driving us crazy. By eating the dead grasses they protect the healthy grass from serious grass pests, which could potentially ruin grasses like those that cattle feed on.