Florida is currently experiencing the worst outbreak of Love Bugs in 50 years. The astute naturalist will recall last year’s crop was also the worst in 50 years. In fact every year seems to herald a never-before-seen airborne apocalypse of amorous insects.
For most of the year, Love Bugs (Plecia nearctica) go unnoticed in their larval form, living in the soil just under a layer of decaying vegetation. At this stage they’re quite beneficial, as they chew up the leaf litter and process it into soil.
Despite the fact that they neither sting nor bite, they are considered an absolute nuisance when the adults emerge from their pupal stage and take flight. It doesn’t help that they’re in the fly family and related to gnats and mosquitoes. For several weeks at a time one can not walk, drive or fly anywhere in the state without enduring a face or windshield barraged by slow-flying, conjoined, copulating Love Bugs. It’s as if someone shook a snow globe full of bugs. It’s disgusting.
What’s curious to those not swatting them out of their face or washing them off of their windshield is the romantic bond formed by a pair of adult Love Bugs. The larger female will seek out a swarm of males. A couple is literally formed end to end and for hours and often days the female will drag the male around shopping for a place to find nectar and lay the eggs the male has graciously been helping to produce.
My cousin asked me to explain to her son why he shouldn’t be freaked out by these affectionate insects. I relayed a story from my childhood when I had to get out of the car and open the gate at our farm. By the time I had reached the gate I was covered by hundreds of the black-bodied, orange-thoraxed flies. I screamed and carried on as if they were eating my flesh.
My story didn’t help.
If I recall correctly, that year was the worst outbreak of Love Bugs in 50 years.