What Are Florida Lovebugs?

Florida lovebugs intermingle in flowering vegetation

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Twice each year, Florida lovebugs make for some miserable motorists in the Sunshine State. These insects tend to swarm around roadsides and carelessly drift into the path of oncoming traffic. The result? Drivers with bug-coated windshields find it difficult to see. What are Florida lovebugs, and why are they such a hazard?

Lovebugs Aren't Bugs at All

The infamous Florida lovebugs are no bugs at all, actually. Bugs, or true bugs, belong to the order hemiptera. Florida lovebugs are true flies of the order diptera. Florida love flies just doesn't have the same ring to it, though.

All About Lovebugs

The common name Florida lovebugs actually refers to the species Plecia nearctica, a small fly in the family Bibionidae that's also known as the March flies. They're black flies with red thoraxes, and most often can be seen flying in mated pairs, male and female joined together.

Florida lovebugs are not a native species to North America. They originated in South America, but gradually expanded their range north into Central America, Mexico, and eventually into states that border the Gulf of Mexico. Today, they've strayed as far north as North Carolina.

Lovebugs are closely related to some of the most annoying bugs: mosquitoes, biting midges, sand flies, and fungus gnats. Compared to their kin, Florida lovebugs are quite harmless. They don't bite or sting, nor do they pose a threat to our crops or ornamental plants. In fact, their larvae are important decomposers of plant material that help build soil rich with organic matter.

How Do Lovebugs Mate?

Lovebugs become a nuisance during two short periods of each year. Florida lovebugs emerge and mate en masse, once in the spring (April to May) and again in late summer (August to September). When they do, they have an unfortunate habit of doing so along roads and highways, where they risk encounters with cars.

First, a mating swarm of males, 40 or more in number, takes to the air. Sperm-seeking females fly into the swarm, where they are quickly grasped by partners and whisked off to a more romantic setting in the vegetation. After mating, the pair remains entwined, and together they head off on a honeymoon of sorts, feeding on nectar and choosing a site for oviposition of the couple's fertilized eggs.

When Lovebug Mating Gets Dangerous

At times, the mating Florida lovebugs become so abundant in an area that they become a serious traffic hazard. Drivers traveling through a mating swarm soon find their windshields literally covered in dead lovebugs, limiting visibility. In extreme cases, enough lovebugs can coat the car's grill and disrupt the engine's airflow, which can cause the car to overheat. Those who live in lovebug territory know it's important to wash the dead lovebugs off your car's exterior as soon as possible. When the bodies of Florida lovebugs bake in the hot sun, their body fluids become acidic and may damage a car's paint.

What to Do About Lovebugs

If you drive through a swarm of mating lovebugs, make sure you hose your car down as soon as you can to clean your radiator grill and protect your car's paint. Pesticides aren't recommended for controlling lovebugs. Although a short-term nuisance, these insects are beneficial in the long-term. Immature lovebug larvae decompose organic waste, and adult lovebugs are noteworthy pollinators

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Hadley, Debbie. "What Are Florida Lovebugs?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-are-florida-lovebugs-1968302. Hadley, Debbie. (2021, September 9). What Are Florida Lovebugs? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-florida-lovebugs-1968302 Hadley, Debbie. "What Are Florida Lovebugs?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-florida-lovebugs-1968302 (accessed June 5, 2023).