The Coming Season: Lovebugs
By: Stefani Harrison
It’s that time of year again, lovebug season. For a few weeks in April and May each year, an abundance of lovebugs appear across Florida. These small flies are in the same family as gnats and mosquitos (Bibionidae) and are about a quarter inch in size. As you’ve probably guessed, lovebugs get their name from flying as a coupled pair with one male and one female. Lovebug mating lasts from several hours to several days with the pair continuing to travel and feed.
Florida has two kinds of lovebugs: Plecia nearctica and Plecia americana. The males and females of both species differ in size. The females are around 1/3 inch in length with small compound eyes, while the males are around 1/4 inch with larger compound eyes. Lovebugs are most commonly seen during daylight hours when temperatures are above 68oF. Adults live long enough to mate, feed, and disperse their young. After mating, females lay their eggs underneath decaying plant life, which provides the proper environment and nutrition for the offspring to survive.
Plecia nearctica is the most common species of lovebug. They are primarily black except for the red coloration that covers the top of their thorax. This species is a large nuisance on highways and interstates but does not pose a threat to human health. P. nearctica can be found during every month but November and are the most abundant during their primary mating seasons from April to May and August to September. These lovebugs are established in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and from Mexico northeastward to South Carolina.
Plecia americana looks nearly identical to P. nearctica but with an entirely red thorax. P. americana differs from P. nearcticain their location and behavior. While P. nearctica is often a nuisance to cars, P. americana remain in woodland areas and are only abundant from April to June. P. americana’s distribution ranges from southern Mexico to North Carolina.
Arrival in the United States
P. nearctica is not native to the United States. While P. americana seems to have originated in North America, P. nearctica migrated from Central America. It is believed to have arrived in the Florida panhandle in 1949 and reached the southern end of the peninsula in the 1970s. It is unclear what brought lovebugs to the US, but the increase in highways and pastures between Central America and the United States could have created a pathway that eased their dispersal. This may be due to decaying vegetation that is often left when grass is cut, which acts as ideal lovebug habitat.
Lovebugs and Cars
Lovebugs are attracted to some odors produced by plant and plant matter. One of these components, UV irradiated aldehydes, is also a major component in car exhaust. This causes lovebugs to confuse car exhaust with the presence of ideal habitat and attracts them to areas with high concentrations of cars, such as roadways, highways, and interstates. P. nearctica actually poses a danger to older cars: the acidity of lovebug’s bodily fluid combined with extended exposure to sunlight can erode car paint when removed. Enough lovebugs can also pose a risk to an older car’s engine, as unprotected radiators can become clogged with lovebugs on the road and overheat liquid cooling systems.
To learn more about lovebugs and the myths surrounding them, check out this University of Florida article here.