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?
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, I guess.
To be specific, the common name Florida lovebugs actually refers to the species Plecia nearctica, a small fly in the family Bibionidae, also known as the March flies. They're black flies with red thoraxes, and most often seen flying in mated pairs, male and female joined together. Lovebugs are closely related to some of our most troublesome flies: 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.
They do, however, 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). And 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.
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 are literally covered in dead lovebugs, limiting visibility. In extreme cases, enough lovebugs can coat the car's grill to disrupt the engine's airflow, and 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 soon. When the bodies of Florida lovebugs bake in the hot sun, their body fluids become acidic and may damage the car's paint.
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.