ORLANDO, Fla. – People like to joke that Florida has only one season: hot.
Or only two seasons: wet and dry. Seriously, though, Florida has seasons just like every other state — except ours are a bit different.
Summer, winter, spring lovebugs and autumn lovebugs.
Like snowbirds, lovebugs arrive in Florida when the best weather of the year rolls in. But where do they come from?
Well I was going to CVS. But the Love Bugs are now shopping. #LoveBugs #Florida pic.twitter.com/sivscsQxNo— Ary (@aryf518) October 4, 2019
Unlike Monday’s episode about Gatorade, today we’re talking about a Florida urban legend about lovebugs being genetically engineered in a University of Florida laboratory to control mosquito populations.
All week, producer Katrina Scales is diving deeper into some of her favorite random Florida facts from 2022.
On Wednesday’s episode of Your Florida Daily: Lovebugs — why they’re here, where they came from and why they may not be around forever.
It happens twice a year.
Swarms of slow-moving black bugs with a tiny orange dots near their head blanket the entire state. Cars, plants, playgrounds and businesses — no surface is safe.
Often they’re doubled up, joined tail-to-tail in copulation moments before they’re smashed by the billions on windshields and grilles of passing vehicles.
About 10 days later, they’re gone leaving behind only their squished remains.
So where did they come from? And what is their purpose in this world? To eat mosquitos as the urban legend goes?
“The short answer is they don’t have a, what you would call a purpose,” said Dr. Norm C. Leppla, professor and program director for Integrated Pest Management at the University of Florida.
Contrary to rumors, the University of Florida did not create lovebugs to control mosquitoes (they actually feed on nectar)! These Dipterans came from Central America during the 1920s, and have found success in Florida, evident by their large numbers during their seasons. pic.twitter.com/eHZI5pMb6F— Entomology Club UF (@EntomologyClub) August 24, 2020
Let’s get one thing straight: lovebugs aren’t actually ‘bugs’.
“They happen to be flies,” Leppla said. “They’re not bugs at all. They’re related to mosquitoes.”
That’s right. Not only are they not mosquito-eaters, but the blood-suckers are family. But Leppla said the similarities stop there.
“Female mosquitoes feed on blood and lovebug females feed on nectar on flowers, so they’re not very similar in the way that they conduct their lives,” he said.
Leppla said lovebugs originated in the Yucatan Peninsula and expanded their reach into the Caribbean and the Gulf states in the 1940s before arriving in Florida around 1950.
From there, the population exploded.
“You literally couldn’t drive down the highway, you couldn’t see out of your windshield during their flight period,” Leppla said. “So they definitely are an invasive species.”
Here’s another fun fact: that white splatter lovebugs leave on your car is their eggs. Left to dry in the hot sun, the splatter turns into something similar to industrial glue.
But why aren’t lovebugs around all year?
Palm Beach to Orlando #LoveBugs #Disgusting #Florida pic.twitter.com/84kk3SfN9N— Tony Marino WBT (@radio_marino) May 13, 2019
Leppla said the flies thrive in decaying vegetation in moist grassy areas. They hatch first from April to May, then again from August to September and spend just three or four days as flying adults.
They mate, die and the cycle begins all over again.
So, there you go. Lovebugs are not made in a lab or modified to be mosquito killers. In fact, scientists have developed more effective ways of curbing mosquito populations: genetically modified mosquitoes.
“What’s most exciting is the genetically modified male mosquitoes that are being released in Florida as an experiment in the keys, and in California and several other places. And it’s proving to be extremely powerful as a way to control the mosquitoes,” Leppla said.
The male mosquitoes are made infertile, therefore, don’t produce any offspring.
“This is the exciting time for an entomologist. We’re making insects sick, we’re developing diseases that are specific to certain insects. We can use genetics to do real things, not modify bugs,” Leppla said.
Twice a year, lovebugs seem to swarm #Florida, coating every outdoor surface. This small, black fly species is invasive and was introduced to Florida in the 1940s by way of migration up from Mexico and across the American South to Florida. #LoveBug #invasivespecies pic.twitter.com/WI9Xh7hF0Y— UF Thompson Earth Systems Institute (@UFEarthSystems) May 30, 2020
These days, we don’t see as many lovebugs as we used to.
Conditions need to be perfect for hatching and some experts think Florida’s “goldilocks” environment won’t be good enough in the future.
“If you give it some time, a little patience, nature balances itself out if we don’t disrupt it with something else. So lovebugs, after a while, have just sort of settled in and most places aren’t having any problems,” Leppla said. “So I would say a little patience and a little tolerance for insects is a good thing.”
Stay tuned for more special episodes of Your Florida Daily this week. Listen every weekday on ClickOrlando.com, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.
Your Florida Daily: Video camera disguised as fire alarm in restroom
A tourist is charged with hiding a video camera inside a beach park restroom, a Florida couple allegedly stole $8,000 from a senior under their care and Universal Orlando is in a legal battle with a Georgia-based theme park company over a plot of land.
Your Florida Daily: The 1992 rogue wave
A freak wave strikes Volusia County beaches just hours before the busy Independence Day weekend of 1992. On today's special episode of Your Florida Daily, we’re diving deeper into one of my favorite random Florida facts of 2022: The story of the mystery wave and how it challenged scientists to confirm what sailors around the world already knew. That "rogue" waves are real.