No, Lovebugs Were Not Created by Scientists
By Richard Levine
I was recently in Sarasota, Florida and got to see the beginning of the summer swarm of lovebugs (Plecia nearctica). I also got to hear some locals tell me lots of “facts” about them that just aren’t true, so let’s set the record straight right now.
MYTH # 1 — Lovebugs were created by scientists in the lab, and then they escaped.
I heard this from a waiter at a local restaurant. This rumor has been around for decades, but it’s not true. As University of Florida entomologist Dr. Norm Leppla explains in the following video, “They came to Florida just after World War II, we think, pretty much by themselves from Yucatan.”
In fact, I later learned that the insects that were swarming at the restaurant weren’t even lovebugs. Instead, they were similar looking insects called Dilophus sayi that lack the red dots seen on lovebugs. Sarasota’s Herald Tribune recently ran an article about it called “Lovebugs are back, or are they?”
MYTH # 2 — Lovebugs eat mosquitoes.
This was part of MYTH # 1, the story being that scientists were trying to create an insect that would eat mosquitoes. As much as I wish it were true, lovebugs DO NOT eat mosquitoes. In fact, adults do not eat at all, and the larvae feed on decaying plant matter.
MYTH # 3 — Lovebugs have no natural enemies, and no other insects will eat them.
I recently received a call from a guy who lives south of Daytona who was shocked to see some kind of insect eating lovebugs on his porch. A family member told him that this was unheard of, since everyone knows nothing eats lovebugs, so they decided to call me here at the headquarters of the Entomological Society of America. I asked if he could send me a photo, which he did, and it turned out to be an assassin bug nymph, a voracious hunter. I’m sure praying mantises and other insect predators would be happy to dine on them as well, and lovebug larvae have been found in the gizzards of robins and quail.
MYTH # 4 — Lovebug body fluids are acidic.
Lovebugs actually ARE attracted to heat and exhaust fumes, which is why Floridians see so many of them on their windshields and grills, and they really can cause damage to your paint job if they are not washed off quickly. However, as Dr. Leppla says in the video above, “They aren’t acid and they aren’t basic, they’re fairly neutral. What causes the problem is leaving those [lovebugs] on the car until the sun and the heat and perhaps microorganisms cause them to be damaging. The trick is to get them off your car as soon as possible.”
MYTH # 5 — Lovebugs are bugs.
Well, yes, if by “bugs” you mean any creepy-crawly thing, such as insects, spiders, millipedes, etc. But in the entomological world, lovebugs are not considered to be “true bugs” in the order Hemiptera. Instead, they are actually flies in the order Diptera.
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Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.