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Publication #ENY-329

Lovebugs in Florida1

D. E. Short2

'Lovebugs' (Figure 1) are small black flies with red thoraxes. Males are 1/4 inch, and females are 1/3 inch in length. These flies are members of the family Bibionidae and are known as March flies. Several species of March flies are native to Florida, however, Lovebugs, Plecia nearctica Hardy are recent invaders from the west.

Figure 1. 

Mating pair of lovebugs. Female on right.

Southern Louisiana experienced flights of lovebugs during the 1920's. The species was described by Hardy in 1940 from specimens collected in Mississippi. First reports of their presence in Florida were made in 1947 from Escambia County. Subsequent reports indicate their presence in Leon County in 1955-56 and Alachua - Marion Counties in 1964-65. Since that time, flights have progressively moved southward. In 1974, specimens were collected in Homestead. Lovebugs also have moved northward and have been reported from Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Two flights of lovebugs occur each year. The spring flight occurs during late April and May. A second flight occurs during late August and September. Flights extend over periods of 4 to 5 weeks. Mating takes place almost immediately after emergence of the females. Adult females live only 2-3 days.

Larvae Aid Growing Plants

Female lovebugs lay from 100 to 350 eggs which are deposited beneath decaying vegetation. Larvae (immature stage) feed on decaying plant material and live on the soil surface just beneath the decaying organic matter. Larvae perform a beneficial function by converting the plant material into organic components which can again be used by the growing plants. After larvae mature, they transform into pupae. The pupal stage requires about 7 to 10 days.

Adult lovebugs are harmless and do not sting or bite. They feed on the nectar of various plants, especially sweet clover, goldenrod and brazilian pepper. Usually, lovebug flights are restricted to daylight hours and temperatures above 68°F. At night lovebugs rest on low growing vegetation.

Lovebugs Hinder Motorists

Lovebugs are a considerable nuisance to motorists. They congregate in unbelievable numbers along highways and the insects spatter on the windshields and grills of moving trucks and automobiles. Windshields become covered with the fatty remains, and vision is obscured. During flights, the flies clog radiator fins causing cars to overheat. They also get into refrigeration equipment on trucks causing them to malfunction. The fatty tissue will cause pitting of the car's finish if it is not removed within a few days. Flies enter cars and sometimes drivers and passengers soil their clothing by sitting on lovebugs. They are also a considerable nuisance to fresh paint. The flies enter houses under construction in such numbers that carpenters refuse to work. Beekeepers complain because worker bees do not visit flowers that have been infested with the flies.

A number of insecticides have been evaluated for effectiveness in controlling lovebug larvae and adults. Most of them kill lovebugs but are impractical because high populations of the insects occur over vast areas of the state. A vacuum cleaner can be used to remove adults from confined areas, such as in buildings and vehicles.

Predators Reduce Lovebug Flights

During the past several years, both the April-May and August-September lovebug flights have been substantially reduced in North Central Florida. This reduction in the population is partly attributed to predators. Larvae aggregate in extremely high numbers in pastures and other grassy habitats. This makes them vulnerable to foraging birds. Lovebug larvae have been found in the gizzards of robins and quail. Although examinations of the stomach contents of armadillos have been negative, observations suggest that they, too, may be excellent predators of the larvae.

Laboratory studies using invertebrate predators found in lovebug infested pastures indicated they were voracious predators too. These included earwigs, two species of beetle larvae and a centipede.

There are several things that can be done to lessen the problem facing motorists. By traveling at night motorists can avoid the insects; lovebugs reach peak activity at 10:00 am and stop flying at dusk. Traveling at slower speeds will reduce the number of bugs that will be spattered. A large screen placed in the front of the grill will keep the radiator fins from clogging, and will protect the finish on the front of the car. If a large screen is not used in front of the grill, at least place a small screen behind the grill in front of the radiator.

Spattered bugs should be washed off the car as soon as possible. Lovebugs are more easily removed, and the chance of damaging the car's finish is lessened if the car has been waxed recently. When the remains are left on an unwaxed car for several days, the finish will often be permanently damaged. Soaking for several minutes with water aids in their removal. When lovebugs are numerous, some motorists spread a light film of baby oil over the front of the hood, above the windshield and on the grill and bumper. This practice will make their removal a simpler task.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENY-329, one of a series of the Department of Entomology & Nematology, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Date first printed: October 1993. Date revised: May 2003. Please visit the EDIS Website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

D. E. Short, professor of Entomology, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension service.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Millie Ferrer-Chancy, Interim Dean.