As we approach Valentine’s Day this weekend, you may already be feeling the affection, but it will be a couple more months until love is swarming all around us. That’s because lovebugs will make their way back to the south this spring.
No, not honeymooners or budding sweethearts who can’t keep their hands off each other. We’re talking about lovebugs, A.K.A. plecia neartica, a species of the march fly that returns for mating season in May.
Why Do We Call Them Lovebugs?
If you’ve seen these little lovers up close, then you probably know why they are called lovebugs. Almost always found in pairs, these small black and red insects are literally stuck on each other for most of their lives. They mate for approximately two or three days (what?!), cuddling up even while feeding, though their lifespan is only about three or four days in total.
As many as eight males will compete for a single female with the goal of getting hitched for life. It may seem as if these insects follow their heart until the end, but some studies found females can live up to a week and may mate with more than one male.
Lovebugs are most active in the daylight and prefer temperatures above 84 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, they tend to rest on plants that are low to the ground.
A Reason to Love the Lovebugs
Rumor has it that lovebugs were created through an experiment by the University of Florida (UF) to control the mosquito population, and while that may seem like a tempting thought, there’s no reason to lose the Bug Bite Thing. While UF entomologists have studied the creatures, there is no truth to this tale—these bugs are lovers and just don’t have it in them to be on the attack.
In fact, lovebugs don’t even eat mosquitoes. Instead, they feed on nectar from plants like other pollinators. They are harmless; with no risk of bites, stings or diseases to humans or other animals, even if they can seem like a bit of a nuisance at times.
Researchers believe lovebugs migrated to the United States from Central America in the 1920s. They were first noticed in Texas before being spotted in Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina around the 1940s.
This species may be exotic and invasive, but they are actually beneficial to our ecosystems as one of nature’s ways to recycle organic matter. After mating, female lovebugs lay their eggs and die. They tend to lay their eggs – averaging 350 of them! – on dead vegetation and other decaying material found on the ground.
After two to four days, the eggs hatch and the larvae feed on what’s around them, which aids in decomposing plant matter and provides nutrients to the soil. It takes the larvae several months to mature, giving them plenty of time to create more food for growing plants.
The cycle continues, bringing a second mating season back in September. Each mating season lasts four or five weeks.
What to Do About Swarming Lovebugs
These insects make love, not war, and are never out to hurt anyone, but they also don’t fall prey to other creatures. Their only real predators are cars and trucks.
Unfortunately, lovebugs seem to be attracted to exhaust fumes and the high vibrations from vehicles, which is why we see so many of them around the roads. (If you’ve ever attempted to cross the state of Florida in May or September, you know what we’re talking about!) Not only is this dangerous for the bugs themselves, this can be annoying for drivers, as the insects end up squished all over the windshield and hood. While it doesn’t help the lovebugs themselves, washing the car fairly quickly removes any bother for humans, and using car wax will protect the paint from future interactions.
What should you do when you come across a pair of lovebugs (or more)? It’s best to leave them alone, as you will be more harm to them than they are to you. Even if they gather around your home – they are also attracted to lightly colored fresh paint – we recommend leaving them be. Pesticides likely won’t work on lovebugs, and anything that would get rid of them would also likely hurt other important pollinators like bees and butterflies … and while we don’t enjoy the pain and swelling from bee stings and actively work to minimize the effects, injuring the actual bees is big no-no in our book.
Though you don’t need protection from these honeymoon flies this Valentine’s Day, you can still protect your own real-life love bug from unnecessary itching and scratching with our Bug Bite Thing suction tool.