Florida’s love bugs: Fact and fiction

Memorial Day weekend in Florida means crowded beaches, crowded theme parks, crowded roads, and crowds of love bugs. That’s right, love bugs. Those bugs are getting it on. Did you really think it was a sweet mama and baby photo?

Unless you have visited Florida during May or September, you may not have seen these weird creatures that even fly joined at the…well, you know.

Love Bugs, also known as March Flies, appear in certain Florida areas in droves — I mean, unbelievable swarms — twice a year. They annoy us for a few weeks, and then they are gone. We almost, almost, forget about them until they start showing up again.

And then, one day, they resume hitting our windshields in such copious numbers that they make it difficult to drive.

It’s even more difficult to get them off the car; the bug residue is almost impossible to remove. And the insects’ fatty tissue can eat away at car paint, though some modern paint finishes seem to be immune to the love bug’s bite.

Speaking of that, angry red thorax notwithstanding, these bugs don’t bite or sting. They simply annoy — to the point that outdoor workers in Florida sometimes refuse to work at the height of a love bug flight, according to the University of Florida.

Love Bug Legend

If you are traveling in Florida during a love bug flight, you’re likely to hear a love bug urban legend from a local. There’s a widespread belief here that love bugs are a creation of the University of Florida — a genetic experiment gone awry.The most common story is that the bugs were bred to control the Florida mosquito population (and don’t even get me started on Florida mosquitoes!). Depending on the storyteller, they were either accidentally or experimentally released into the wild.

But, it’s all false (or what I’m about to tell you is a giant cover-up). The university says the bugs are native to Central America, and they were likely stowaways on cargo ships that docked at the port in New Orleans. The bugs headed to Florida for vacation, and like many other Florida visitors, decided to stay.They were first recorded in the Florida Panhandle in the 1940s.

But what do they do?

An almost equally common urban legend is that love bugs serve no purpose. That’s false, too.

Because they are unseen for most of the year, and they’re so annoying when they are seen, many people consider these insects a pest. However, scientists deem them beneficial.

Female love bugs lay their eggs on the ground in decaying vegetation. The larvae help break it down further, enriching the soil.

One more freaky thing

If it’s not freaky enough to see swarms of sex-crazed bugs flying in tandem on your next Florida vacation, consider this fact I learned while researching this post: The male dies after mating.

And the female? The female keeps dragging that dead man’s body around with her, until she lays her eggs and dies.

Talk about letting a relationship weigh you down.