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So many people ask questions about Love Bugs (you might also see it spelled as lovebug) that hopefully an Insider Page will help solve some of the issues.
First and Foremost
Don't worry! Love bugs are absolutely harmless -- they don't bite or sting. They don't spread diseases. They don't eat trash...or mosquitoes -- the adults don't eat at all. They are weak flyers, and lurch and flit anywhere depending on the smallest air currents. They don't buzz or click or hum. They can be annoying, but certainly are no reason to cancel or change your vacation plans.
What are they?
Love bugs are a small black fly with a red thorax (the part right behind the head). Males are tiny -- only 1/4" long (6mm), and the females are only slightly bigger, at just under 1/2" inch (12mm) long. Their name comes from the fact that they mate while airborne, and you'll rarely see a lone love bug. The larger females fly forward, dragging their tiny partner backward through the air -- probably a good part of the reason they're such wonky flyers.
The larvae eat decaying vegetation, so you'll be most likely to encounter the adult on roadways (where the mowed vegetation lies in the sun, decaying) or anywhere a lot of grounds/garden maintenance has been done recently.
The adults do not eat anything.
They emerge in the spring and fall (usually May and September), although this can vary by a few weeks earlier or later. The total "season" lasts 3-5 weeks.
They are most active in the mid-morning and just before nightfall -- during the day they tend to find shelter in the shade.
For the scientific stuff, look here: University of Florida Love Bug discussion (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG068) -- the University of Florida Entomology Department is a highly-regarded authority on bugs occurring in the American Southeast.
What's the story?
There's a longstanding urban legend that the love bugs are a genetic mutation released by mistake by the University of Florida to control the mosquito population.
This is not true (Snopes.com debunking of the Love Bug Myth). They migrated to Florida in the 1940's from Louisiana or Texas, where they seem to have taken up residence after being inadvertently shipped from Central America along with cargo in the early 1800's.
There is also a story that they have no natural predators -- this is also not true -- love bug larvae have been found in the stomachs of many species of birds.
Then what's all the fuss?
Frankly, long-term residents of Florida are a little bewildered by this question.
Lovebugs can be annoying -- if you're sunbathing, they can land on you (which you might not even feel, they're so small and light) -- at which point they'll become hopelessly mired in your suntan oil. (not an issue if you're using a 'dry' sun block). They can drunkenly wobble into the pool, or (worst of all) into the beverage you have at your elbow. Not to worry -- while it's not terribly appetising, they are not known to be carriers of any diseases, and don't really warrant pitching your drink -- fish 'em out and cover your drink with a lid or napkin. The same applied to picnic dishes if you're having a cookout.
Some people claim that the dead ones emit a smell, but other people swear they have no odour.
If they are very populous, a small fan will keep them away from you and your things.
You'll be most likely to have to deal with them if you're driving mid-morning or just before nightfall -- the crash of hundreds of bodies against the windshield/windscreen can sound like a torrential rain, and it's not uncommon to have to pull over safely into a gas/petrol station to wash them off every so often. If they're really bad, you can buy washer fluid formulated to help wash them off.
It is best to try to get them off your car, if it's your own car. Their bodies are very acidic, and will pit the finish on your car if allowed to stay there indefinitely. Most car washes are well-equipped to deal with love bugs, and most stores (even Wal-Mart carries bug remover) can guide you to a product that helps remove them.
There have been suggestions made on TA forums to spray the car with a laundry stain remover like Spray n Wash. The thinking is that those products are formulated to remove protein (food!) deposits from your clothes, so they should remove buggy protein deposits from your car, too. Be careful, though -- some chemicals will eat the paint on your car, too, so it would be best to try this in a concealed and small area before dousing your cream puff '66 Mustang convertible or your swish new Jag in the stuff.
They can also get so thick that they actually clog your radiator, causing the car to overheat.
If you've a rental/hire car, it's less of a worry -- the agencies have not been known to penalise people for returning a car crusted with love bugs...BUT please make sure that the windshield/windscreen stays clear enough to enable you to drive safely, and the radiator stays clear enough to get you safely to your destinations.
Hope this helps Florida's visitors understand this odd critter a little better.