- It’s that time of year, the Love Bugs are here!
By Capt. Tom Marks
If you are in Florida or anywhere along the Gulf coast and even up into South Carolina about this time of year, you are being annoyed by “love bugs.” I had to find out more about them. Researching the love bug I discovered it is really a variety of March fly, Plecia Nearctia. Isn’t a fly just a bug?
They arrived in Florida back in the 1940s by expanding their range from Central America. The love bug doesn’t bite or sting, they don’t even spread disease, they are just annoying. Now I am not a lover of bugs and certainly have no affection for love bugs, but they aren’t all bad!
Actually, the love bug is beneficial for gardens. In the larval stage, they eat dead organic matter and return it to the soil so it can be used by plants. The adults are nectar eaters – clover, goldenrod or Brazilian Pepper being favored flowers.
They emerge from the ground twice a year first around May, then again in the fall around September. The emergence is called swarming, it is part of their reproductive cycle. The males emerge first followed by the females about a day later. Quickly they couple and fly this way for two to three days. When a pair is through with their lengthy mating the female drops to the ground and lays anywhere from 100 to 350 eggs on the top of the soil, then she dies. The male might live a couple more days and his brief adult phase ends.
The entire life span of the love bug depends on what flight it originates from.
The May flight lives roughly 120 days, the eggs laid do hatch in just a couple of days where the larvae stage feeds on decaying organic plant material until it is ready to transform to the pupa stage. The pupa stage lasts a couple of days then emerges as an adult to die about four or five days later.
The September flight lives around 240 days, going through the same cycle. Today there are not as many love bugs as when they first invaded the Gulf Coast region. Natural controls “followed” their invasion, such as parasitic fungi. Love bugs are susceptible to drought which can cause high mortality to the larvae.
If you are in an area that has love bugs, you are familiar with the seasonal swarms. They are pesky flying insects as they swarm and buzz about your body, sometimes landing on you. They are attracted to light colors.
The dense swarms can create hazardous driving as they get smashed on a windshield. Don’t use the windshield washer when driving that will just smear the mess and make visibility out the window impossible.
It has been reported that their squished bodies are acidic and will damage a car’s paint. This is a myth, the acid is a by-product of the bacteria that eats the squished remains and that damages the paint. The advice is still the same after driving through swarms of love bugs, wash them off sooner rather than later. Lots of water, a detergent like Dawn and lots of elbow grease will get the job done.
What I was really interested in finding out when I started this research was which bug is the male in the mated pair. As I suspected, it is the fly with the bigger head (and smaller body). I like to think it is because males are smarter and vastly more intellectual, but I know the ladies will argue it has nothing to do with intelligence, but more to do about ego. In the picture, the male is to the left and the superior female is to the right.
We know the female is superior because the poor male has to follow her lead. The sheer magnitude of their numbers is a great example that men and women can get along – as long as men let the women lead.
Yet I ponder the superiority of the sexes.
The female love bug is doing all the work flying, the male is just going for the ride. I am sure the ladies can see a parallel in humans, I cannot say I know this for a fact. While the female love bug is superior in size and is leading, the male is saving his strength for the day when they part, he vacations in retirement.
The female may guarantee there will be the next generation but dies in exhaustion.
A vacation in retirement.
It sounds like to me like the male isn’t so dumb.