A Closer Look At Florida Love Bugs

Appearance

Small and black, with a touch of red behind the head.

Behavior

The adult love bug feeds on the nectar of flowering plants. Upon reaching maturity the love bug spends almost the entirety of its remaining life copulating with its mate, hence its numerous romantic nicknames. The male and female attach themselves at the rear of the abdomen and remain that way at all times, even in flight. In fact, after mating, the male dies and is dragged around by the female until she lays her eggs.

Love bug flights can number in the hundreds of thousands. The slow, drifting movement of the insects is almost reminiscent of snow fall. Two major flights occur each year, first in late spring, then again in late summer. The spring flight occurs during late April and May, the summer during late August and September. Flights extend over periods of four to five weeks.

Habitat

For most of the year, love bugs are beneficial in that the larvae live in grassy areas and feed on dead vegetation within the thatch.  They are often seen along highways and are a real nuisance to passing traffic.

Interesting Fact

The Love bug is a member of the family of march flies. It is also known as the honeymoon fly, telephonebug, kissybug or double-headedbug.

Its reputation as a public nuisance is due not to its bite or sting (as it is not capable of either), but to its slightly acidic body chemistry. Because airborne love bugs can exist in enormous numbers near highways, they often die on automobile windshields, hoods, and radiator grills when the vehicles travel at high speeds.

If left for more than an hour or two, the remains become dried and extremely difficult to remove. In the past, the acidity of the dead adult body, especially the female’s egg masses, often resulted in pits and etches in automotive paint and chrome if not quickly removed. However, advances in automotive paints and protective coatings have reduced this threat significantly. Now the greatest concern is excessive clogging of vehicle radiator air passages with the bodies of the adults, with the reduction of the cooling effect on engines, and the obstruction of windshields when the remains of the adults and egg masses are smeared on the glass.

Control

Love bugs are subject to some significant natural controls, such as various parasitic fungi and dry weather, which dries out the thatch resulting in a higher mortality rate for the larvae. While it often took years (as in decades), love bug flights are no longer present in the huge numbers that once existed simply because their natural controls (mostly fungi) caught up with established populations. In many areas, local love bug flights may only be present in excessively large numbers due to occasional local conditions that may not be repeated in successive years

While love bugs are not a favored food of most insectivores due to their acidic taste, love bug larvas, and some adults, are food for birds such as quail and robins, and also, spiders and some predatory insects. Insect predators include earwigs, at least two species of beetle larvae and a centipede.

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