;
MANAGE FORESTS & LAND
  • FOREST HEALTH: LOVEBUGS

    When a guy thinks of romantic things to do for his sweetheart, he may buy her a dozen roses, send her a thoughtful card, or buy her a nice gift, but he probably wouldn’t think of sending her a lovebug. It seems ironical that the romantic name lovebug will often have people mouthing anything but loving words about some small, black insects. Driving the highways of southeast Texas during May or September may be an unpleasant experience if lovebugs are present. Every few years a massive emergence of lovebugs is likely to occur. They get the name lovebug or honeymoon fly because of their habit of mating while in flight – nature’s example of flying united. Lovebugs occur from Central America and Mexico to Texas and along the Gulf Coastal Plain to Florida. They also occur in Georgia and South Carolina along the Atlantic coast. There are two generations per year in Texas with adults usually emerging in May and September. The emergence period lasts about four weeks and the adult flies live only three to five days. When they first begin to emerge, there are just a few flies present, but they rapidly increase to a peak in about two weeks and then begin to decline. Due to natural population cycles, massive outbreaks of lovebugs do not occur every year.

    Lovebugs on a windshieldLovebugs are considered a nuisance, especially to motorists. When a mass emergence occurs, vehicles travelling along highways will have so many lovebugs splattered on the windshield that the driver cannot see. Lovebugs will also clog vehicle radiators causing engines to overheat, and they will cause the cooling units of refrigerated vans to malfunction. If that weren’t enough, the slightly acidic body fluids of smashed lovebugs will damage paint on vehicles if not removed within a few days. An outdoor painting project can be a frustrating experience because the insects swarm around and become stuck in the fresh paint. In spite of their negative attributes, they don’t bite or sting.

    Even though lovebugs are considered a general nuisance, they do perform some beneficial functions. The adults aid in the pollination process by feeding on the nectar and pollen of flowers. Female lovebugs lay their eggs (100-300 per female) in decaying organic matter (typically dead leaves and grass) on the ground and the larvae feed on this material, helping it to decompose and be recycled.

    Lovebugs use their olfactory senses to locate decaying vegetation where they lay their eggs. Researchers have discovered that lovebugs are attracted to the odor of vehicle exhaust that has been exposed to sunlight (ultraviolet light). Apparently certain chemicals in vehicle exhaust are the same as chemicals produced by decaying vegetation. This may be why lovebugs seem concentrated along well-traveled highways. Also, lovebugs are visually attracted to light colored objects, especially white. The flies are most active between about 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. They are not active at night and are not attracted to electric lights.

    Lovebugs on the front bumper of a truck.These small, black insects with a red thorax (the area behind the head) are more correctly called March flies (even though they occur in May and September in Texas). They are classified in the insect order Diptera (true flies) and technically are not bugs, being more closely related to the house fly. For those who care about such things, lovebugs belong to the insect family Bibionidae (March flies). The scientific or Latin name for this insect is Plecia nearctica.

    Lovebug adults do not have any significant natural enemies (except maybe cars and trucks!). Birds, toads, frogs, lizards, and other insects do not feed on them and few parasites are known. Neither the larvae nor the adults are notably affected by diseases such as bacteria, fungus, or virus. Natural controls, primarily weather, have the greatest effect on lovebug populations. Cold winters and dry weather will kill many of the larvae. Although adult lovebugs have no known natural enemies, the larvae are a source of food for some birds and insects. Spiders may be a natural enemy of lovebugs as spider webs loaded with adult lovebugs have been observed. Insect-eating pitcher plants full of adult lovebugs have been found, but the lovebugs were toxic to the plant.

    Certain insecticides are effective in controlling lovebugs, but using insecticides is impractical when populations are high because the adults are so short-lived and occur over a large area. Unfortunately, when outbreaks occur, people are forced to tolerate the flies until they have run their course.
  • RELATED INFORMATION