What’s not to love about love bugs? by Ashley Grubb

Lots of things… Including, the way they swarm around me when I’m outside, and the way they plaster themselves all over the front of my truck…

Over the last few days I’ve noticed a steadily increasing bombardment of amorous pairs and lonely singles out on the prowl. What is the deal with these annoying little exhibitionists?
The scientific name for love bugs is Plecia nearctica. They are also known as honeymoon flies, kissing bugs, and double-headed bugs, and are classified into a family of insects known as march flies. Also included in this family are the equally annoying fungus gnats and mosquitoes. Love bugs are generally weak fliers and aside from finding each other irresistible, they are also attracted to bright white surfaces, heat, asphalt, gasoline, and exhaust fumes. They are considered “semi-annual” pests because the adults have two emergence’s (called flights) per year. These flights can include clouds numbering in the hundreds of thousands!
Before we get into too many more details, we must first address the urban legend. Rumor has it that love bugs were a genetic experiment gone wrong. It is said that the University of Florida created sterile female love bugs as potential mates for Florida’s mosquito population as a method of controlling their populations. However, something went wrong and a male was accidentally created too and they escaped together into the wild to populate the world! As the frequent target of Aggie jokes, I almost wish this were true, but it’s not.
Love bugs have been around for a long time in Central America and have just been slowly migrating north. Do we need to worry about them as pests? Nope- they eat nectar and their larvae eat rotting vegetation, so no harm there, BUT they do have one really annoying trick up their sleeves. While alive, they have an almost neutral body pH of 6.5, but when they become smeared hood ornaments on the front of your shiny new car something changes. They have the ability, post mortem, to lower their pH and turn into tiny blobs of acid that will wreak havoc on paint jobs in less than a day. Newer automobiles have more advanced paint and fewer issues, but you have my sympathy if you drive my old pitted 2007 black Dodge Neon.
If that nasty pH magic trick wasn’t enough, love bugs also occur in such dense populations during their flights that they have the ability to clog radiator air passages and contribute to engines overheating. Why so many at once you ask? They have had to evolve the ability to synchronize these mass flights if they want to have any hope of finding a mate and living up to their name, because the adult females only live for 4 days!
So hang in there and support your local car wash, or invite a co-worker to carpool and let this be his week  The swarms should be over soon!  L