Your Florida Daily: Where do lovebugs come from?

New podcast episode explores a popular urban legend about lovebugs

Lovebugs (Plecia sp.) (Bibionidae) (Bernard DUPONT, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

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?

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.

Listen below:

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.

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.

Pattern of migration of Plecia nearctica from Central America to the southeastern US.

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?

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.

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, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

About the Author:

Katrina Scales is a producer for the News 6+ Takeover at 5:30 p.m. She also writes and voices the podcast Your Florida Daily. Katrina was born and raised in Brevard County and started her journalism career in radio before joining News 6 in June 2021.