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No Love for These Messy Florida Bugs

May 12, 2011 - 6:00pm

Bad news, Floridians. Scientists have no plans for exterminating those greasy love bugs that are splattering your car grill and windshield.

The seasonal swarms of plecia nearctica have been particularly heavy in South Florida, where the moisture-seeking bugs have been hydrated.

But, according to experts at the University of Florida, this year's first crop -- a second typically emerges in August or September -- is no worse and no bigger than usual.

"They're not as abundant as when they came in during the 1960s. They were horrible then," said John Capinera, chairman of UF's Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Predicting that natural predators will develop a taste for love bugs and gradually reduce their population, as has happened in Central America, Capinera knows of no man-made eradication efforts under way in the state.

"They are a nuisance, but not an economic loss," he said of the hovering black and red insects that fly united.

Indeed, Florida's car washes are booming this time of year. If left on bumpers for more than a couple of days, the excretions and entrails of love bugs eat into paint and permanently mar car finishes.

Love bugs got their moniker for prolonged mating habits, where male and female stay conjoined, Responding to evolutionary imperative, the smaller male sticks to the female because the last fertilizer is most likely to be the father, explained Capinera, co-author of the 2005 book, "Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States."

The bugs Floridians see flying around live only for a matter of weeks as adults. Prior to that, they spend months underground as larvae.

Scientists believe that natural predators, such as microbial parasites and various nematodes, will, over time, begin to eat into the massive clumps of love bug larvae.

Meantime, UF researchers are more than a little bugged by the myth that love bugs were hatched by a campus genetics experiment gone wrong.

In fact, the plecia nearctica traveled up from Central America in the early part of the 20th century, entering the United States through Texas or Louisiana. The first Florida sighting was in Pensacola in 1950. By 1969, they had reached Miami -- disproving the notion that every bad trend in Florida starts there.

And contrary to conventional wisdom, love bugs do serve an actual purpose, other than boosting car-wash profits.

"They're pollinators as adults and the immature ones feed on organic matter," notes Capinera.

While UF researchers did not invent love bugs, there is no big push to get rid of them either. Capinera said he would like to travel to Central America to identify the predators that have greatly diminished the love bug population there.

"But there's no grant money available for that," he said. And even more fatalistically, he added, "[Love bugs] will be part of the environment forever."


Contact Kenric Ward at or at (772) 802-5341.

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