Overview

Distribution

Today, lovebugs occur in large populations in every state along the Gulf of Mexico as well as Georgia and South Carolina. Populations of lovebugs also exist throughout Central America. Plecia nearctica was recognized in Texas and Louisiana as early as 1911, but was not seen in Florida until about 1949.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced ); neotropical (Native )

  • Buschman, L. 1976. Invasion of Florida by the Lovebug *Plecia nearctica* (Diptera:Bibionidae). Florida Entomologist,, 59(2): 191-194.
  • Cherry, R., R. Raid. 2000. Seasonal flight of *Plecia nearctica* (Diptera:Bibionidae) in Southern Florida. Florida Entomologist,, 83(1): 94-96.
  • Thompson, C. 1975. Lovebugs, a review of the Nearctic Species of Plecia Wiedemann (Diptera:Bibionidae). Coop Econ Insect Rep Anim Plant Health Serv Plant Prot Quar Programs,, 25(8): 87-91.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Lovebugs are sexually dimorphic. Males are much smaller than females, but have larger eyes. Lovebugs have seven to twelve segments on each antenna and have branched wings. Their bodies are mostly black, with a large orange/red area on top of the thorax.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; polymorphic

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

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Ecology

Habitat

Both larval and adult lovebugs are found primarily in grass habitats. Plecia nearctica are strong flyers, however, and can be encountered in almost any habitat. They are especially partial to freshly cut lawns, animal pastures, and decaying vegetation. Adult lovebugs have even been spotted several miles off the Gulf Coast (over water), and at altitudes of 1500 feet.

Range elevation: 457.2 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical

Terrestrial Biomes: taiga ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural

  • Chambers, S. 1977. Genetic Characteristics of a Colonizing Episode in the Lovebug, *Plecia nearctica*. Annals of the Entomological Society of America,, 70(4): 537-540.
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Trophic Strategy

Adult Plecia nearctica are completely dependent upon nectar and pollen as food. Lovebugs feed during the day, and are thought to stop feeding in the late afternoon. Lovebug larvae use decaying vegetation as a source of food. Emerging lovebugs cannot survive more than 24 hours without food.

Because of the mating position (females and males in opposite directions), it is believed that males do not feed as often as females.

Plant Foods: leaves; nectar; pollen

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Nectarivore )

  • Leppla, N., J. Sharp, W. Turner, E. Hamilton, D. Bennett. 1974. Rhythmic Activity of *Plecia nearctica*. Environmental Entomology,, 3(2): 323-326.
  • Van Handel, E. 1976. Metabolism of the Lovebug *Plecia nearctica* (Diptera:Bibionidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America,, 69(2): 215-216.
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Associations

Lovebugs are an introduced species, and do not have many natural enemies. Because of this, lovebug populations continue to grow and move. Many people consider P. nearctica a pest. Methods are being sought to control the populations of these insects. Beauveria bassiana, a fungus, is being considered as a tool in the control of P. nearctica. In testing, Beauveria bassiana, proved to be pathogenic to the lovebug and to cause signifigant mortality among larva and adults.

  • Callahan, P., H. Denmark. 1974. The Lovebug Phenomenon. Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Conference on ecological animal control by habitat management: 93-101.
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There are no known species that prey on the early stages of P. nearctica, nor are there any that particularly feed on the adult fly. Lovebugs are considered to be pests to humans. Biologists have tested different fungi on lovebug larva as a possibility of biological control.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Because of their short lifespan, quickly finding a mate is important for the success of P. nearctica. Males swarming over nesting sites dart out and "hit" any insect or object that flies in their area. If it has not contacted a female, then the male goes back to hovering. Males use physical contact, visual, and auditory cues to find single females.

Females use chemical scents and visual cues in order to find appropriate locations for ovipositing.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Eggs hatch and mature through larval and pupal stages, emerging as adults between 3 and 9 months later.

Eclosion from the pupae takes about five hours for males, and six for females. Within two hours of emerging, both males and females are fully pigmented.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

  • Kish, L., I. Terry, G. Allen. 1977. Three fungi tested against the lovebug, *Plecia nearctica*, in Florida. Florida Entomologist,, 60(4): 291-295.
  • Thornhill, R. 1976. Reproductive Behavior of the Lovebug, *Plecia nearctica* (Diptera:Bibionidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America,, 69(5): 843-847.
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Life Expectancy

Like many other insects, lovebugs have a short lifespan. After metamorphosis, adult males live from two to five days and adult females up to seven.

  • Hieber, C., J. Cohen. 1983. Sexual Selection in the Lovebug, *Plecia nearctica*: The role of male choice. Evolution,, 37(5): 987-992.
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Reproduction

Plecia nearctica emerge from their pupal stage ready to mate. Males emerge first and hover above the emergence site. Male lovebug swarms consist of large males near the ground, medium males in the middle, and small males farthest from the ground. The large males (closest to the ground) are able to "pair" with the females before the other males. There is evidence of a great amount of male intraspecific competition over females.

Once the females emerge, they fly up through the swarm of males. Males usually grasp females in the air, but always have to "pair" on the ground. Males may also try to "break up" other copulating pairs in order to take the female. Males can separate couples that have not completely engaged their genitalia. If a couple has been paired more than four and a half minutes, they are almost impossible to separate.

During copulation, males face the opposite direction of the female. Lovebugs remain paired for about three days. Because of their short lifespan, lengthy copulation is especially costly for males. Although lovebugs are able to mate more then once, they usually do not. After the male and female separate, the female lays her eggs and dies.

Plecia nearctica are most noted for their copulating method. Males and females are seen flying together, attached at a 180-degree angle.

Plecia nearctica emerge between the months of March and December, with the largest groups emerging in May and September. After emerging, male lovebugs swarm around the nesting site waiting to mate with the females.

Female lovebugs lay their eggs in decaying vegetation and soil.

Breeding interval: Lovebugs breed only once in their lifetimes.

Breeding season: May, September

Key Reproductive Features: semelparous ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

After ovipostion, there is no further parental care or involvement.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female)

  • Kish, L., I. Terry, G. Allen. 1977. Three fungi tested against the lovebug, *Plecia nearctica*, in Florida. Florida Entomologist,, 60(4): 291-295.
  • Thornhill, R. 1976. Reproductive Behavior of the Lovebug, *Plecia nearctica* (Diptera:Bibionidae). Annals of the Entomological Society of America,, 69(5): 843-847.
  • Thornhill, R. 1980. Sexual Selection within Mating Swarms of the Lovebug, *Plecia nearctica* (Diptera:Bibionidae). Animal Behavior,, 28: 405-412.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Lovebugs are not in danger of extinction and are not part of any conservation programs.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Adult lovebugs are considered to be a "pain" by many people. They are attracted to highways where they are smashed by passing vehicles. The bodies of lovebugs cause damage to the paint of cars and can cause radiators to overheat. Lovebugs are also attracted to freshly painted surfaces and can be seen in the dried paint of many buildings.

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Plecia nearctica lay their eggs in places with dying vegetation. After hatching, the larva feeds on this vegetation. Lovebug larva benefit humans by breaking down dead vegetation and returning it to the soil.

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Wikipedia

Lovebug

The lovebug, Plecia nearctica, is a member of the family of march flies. It is also known as the honeymoon fly, kissingbug, or double-headed bug. The adult is a small, flying insect common to parts of Central America and the southeastern United States, especially along the Gulf Coast.[2] During and after mating, adult pairs remain coupled, even in flight, for up to several days.[3]

The lovebug was first described in 1940 by D. E. Hardy from Galveston, Texas. At that time, he reported the incidence of lovebugs to be widespread, but most common in Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana.[2] However, by the end of the 20th century the species had spread heavily to all areas bordering the Gulf of Mexico, as well as Georgia and South Carolina. L. A. Hetrick, writing in 1970, found the bug was also widespread in central and northern Florida and described its flights as reaching altitudes of 300 to 450 metres (980 to 1,480 ft) and extending several kilometers over the Gulf.[4] In 2006, it was reported as far north as Wilmington, North Carolina.[5]

Immature lovebugs' larvae feed on partially decayed vegetation in the landscape and, in this respect, are beneficial. Adults primarily feed on nectar from various plants, particularly sweet clover, goldenrod, and Brazilian pepper.[2]

Semi-annual pest status[edit]

Localized lovebug flights can number in the hundreds of thousands. The slow, drifting movement of the insects is almost reminiscent of snow fall except that the flies also rise in the air. Two major flights occur each year, first in late spring, then again in late summer. In south Florida, a third (but smaller) flight can occur in December.[2] The spring flight occurs during late April and May, and in the summer during late August and September. Flights extend over periods of four to five weeks.[4] Mating takes place almost immediately after emergence of the females. Adult females live only three to four days, while males live a little longer.[2]

Lovebugs covering a bus stop at Walt Disney World in September 2006

This species' reputation as a public nuisance is due not to any bite or sting (it is incapable of either), but to its slightly acidic body chemistry. Because airborne lovebugs can exist in enormous numbers near highways, they die in large numbers on automobile windshields, hoods, and radiator grills when the vehicles travel at high speeds. If left for more than an hour or two, the remains become extremely difficult to remove. Their body chemistry has a nearly neutral 6.5 pH but may become acidic at 4.25 pH if left on the car for a day.[2] In the past, the acidity of the dead adult body, especially the female's egg masses, often resulted in pits and etches in automotive paint and chrome if not quickly removed.[6] However, advances in automotive paints and protective coatings have reduced this threat significantly. Now the greatest concern is excessive clogging of vehicle radiator air passages with the bodies of the adults, with the reduction of the cooling effect on engines, and the obstruction of windshields when the remains of the adults and egg masses are smeared on the glass.[2]

Lovebug adults are attracted to light-colored surfaces, especially if they are freshly painted, but adults congregate almost anywhere apparently reacting to the effects of sunlight on automobile fumes, asphalt, and other products affected by environmental factors still not completely understood.[2]

Folklore[edit]

Urban legend holds that lovebugs are synthetic—the result of a University of Florida genetics experiment gone wrong.[3]

Much speculation about the lovebug still thrives. This is partly because the larval form of this insect is seldom seen, as it lives and feeds in the thatch of grasses for most of the year. While various fungi are suspected of being natural controls for this species,[2] biological control of these non-pest flies is not a priority for funding.

Research by L.L. Buschman showed that migration explained the introduction of the lovebug into Florida and other southeastern states, contrary to the urban myth that the University of Florida created them by manipulating DNA to control mosquito populations.[3]

Management[edit]

Lovebugs are subject to some significant natural controls, such as various parasitic fungi,[2] and dry weather—which dries out the thatch resulting in a higher mortality rate for the immatures. As the lovebug migrated around the Gulf Coast, first to Texas, then Louisiana, then further eastward, the initial populations for many years were so excessive that they caused public concern and initiated rumors of their origin. However, as pest populations migrate naturally, their natural controls are usually not far behind. While it often took decades, lovebug flights are no longer present in the huge numbers that once existed simply because their natural controls (mostly fungi) caught up with established populations. In many areas, local lovebug flights may only be present in excessively large numbers due to occasional local conditions that may not be repeated in successive years.

While lovebugs are not a favored food of most insectivores due to their acidic taste, lovebug larvae—and some adults—are food for birds such as quail and robins. Arthropod predators include spiders, some predatory insects such as earwigs, at least two species of beetle larvae, and centipedes.[6]

Life cycle[edit]

The lovebug has been recorded to have two flights that occur each year in which the lovebug will have a total lifespan of about 4–9 months depending on flight season. The first flight occurs during the months of April and May and the second flight occurs in August and September.[7] The flights generally last about 4–5 weeks each time.[8] Female lovebugs can lay as many as 100-350 eggs and will regularly lay these eggs around decaying material on the top layer of ground soil.[9] Lovebug eggs generally hatch after 2–4 days depending flight season. Once the eggs have hatched, the larvae will start feeding on the decaying material around them such as decaying plants on the soil and other decaying organic material and will live and remain in the soil until they develop to the pupa stage.[9] During the warmer months the lovebug larva will remain in the larvae phase for approximately 120 days and approximately 240 days during the cooler months.[10] Lovebugs typically stay in the pupa stage about 7–9 days before reaching the adult phase in which they can start reproducing.[11] Once adults, lovebugs are ready to mate and will start copulating to begin reproducing. Adult male love bugs will emerge first from the pupal stage and will hover around until female lovebugs emerge.[12] Mating between love bugs takes place immediately after emergence of the adult females.[13] Male lovebugs will copulate with a female and will remain paired up until the female has been fully fertilized. Copulation takes place for 2–3 days before the female detaches and lays her eggs and dies. Adult females have been recorded to live up to seven days while adult males may live up to two to five days but on average lovebugs will live three to four days.[14]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hardy, D. E. (1940) "Studies in New World Plecia (Bibionidae: Diptera)". Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 13: 15–27.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Denmark, Harold; Mead, Frank; Fasulo, Thomas (April 2010). "Lovebug, Plecia nearctica Hardy". Featured Creatures. University of Florida/IFAS. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Leppla, Norman (September 2009). "Living with lovebugs". Electronic Data Information Source of UF/IFAS Extension. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Hetrick, L. (March 1970). "Biology of the 'love-bug', Plecia nearctica (Diptera: Bibionidae)". Florida Entomologist. Entomological Society of Florida. Retrieved 23 September 2008. 
  5. ^ Mousseau, Timothy (July 2009). "Lovebugs on the move". University of South Carolina. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Short, Donald (May 2003). "Lovebugs in Florida". Electronic Data Information Source of UF/IFAS Extension. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Retrieved 17 July 2008. 
  7. ^ Cherry, R., and Raid, R. 2000. Seasonal flight of Plecia nearctica (Diptera: Bibionidae) in southern Florida. Florida Entomol. 83: 94–96.
  8. ^ Denmark, H. A., and F. W. Mead. "Lovebug - Plecia Nearctica Hardy." Lovebug – Plecia Nearctica Hardy. DPI Entomology Circular 350, 15 Aug. 1998. Web. 24 July 2014.
  9. ^ a b Wenston, J., D. E. Short, and M. Pfiester. "Lovebugs in Florida1." EDIS New Publications RSS. University of Florida, 2013. Web. 25 July 2014.
  10. ^ Leppla, Norman C. "Living With Lovebugs." EDIS New Publications RSS. University of Florida/IFAS Extension, 15 Jan. 2007. Web. 24 July 2014
  11. ^ Hetrick LA. 1970a. Biology of the "love-bug," Plecia nearctica (Diptera: Bibionidae). Florida Entomologist 53: 23-26.
  12. ^ Thornhill, Randy. "Dispersal of Plecia Nearctica (Diptera: Bibionidae)." The Florida Entomologist 57.1 (1980): 45. ProQuest. Web. 24 July 2014.
  13. ^ Thornhill, R. 1976c. Reproductive behavior of the lovebug, Plecia nearctica (Diptera: Bibionidae). Ann. Entomol. Soc. Amer. 69:843-847
  14. ^ Hieber, C., J. Cohen. 1983. Sexual Selection in the Lovebug, *Plecia nearctica*: The role of male choice. Evolution,, 37(5): 987-992.
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