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FIGURE 1. A pair of mating lovebugs (Plecia nearctica). Note that while the female (on the right) is larger in overall size, males have noticeably larger, circular eyes.

   
 

 

FIGURE 2. In some years, the only thing more common than a pick up truck on Texas highways are lovebugs on the losing end of head-on collisions!

   
 

 

FIGURE 3. Front windshield with residue of lovebugs.

   
 

 

FIGURE 4. Be sure to clean off insects that have had a head-on collision with your vehicle as soon as possible as they can damage the paint finish if left to bake in full sun over several days.

   

Quick Facts

Common Name:

Lovebugs

Other Common Names: 

March flies, double-headed bugs, honeymoon flies, united bugs

Genus / Species:

Plecia nearctica

Size: Males are about ¼ inch and the females 1/3 inch in length

Type of Beneficial:

Decomposer / recycler of organic matter

Type of Metamorphosis:

Immature stages appear different from adults (i.e., complete metamorphosis)

Beneficial Stage(s):

Larval stages serve as one of nature’s decomposers by recycling organic matter. Adults aid in the pollination of flowers.

Occurrence:

Two generations per year in Texas with adults usually emerging in May and September. The emergence period lasts about four weeks and the adult flies live only three to five days.

Mounted Specimen? 

Yes (mounted specimen for viewing available in insect collection at County Extension Office)

 

What Are Lovebugs?

Lovebugs are actually flies (Diptera) of the family Bibionidae, having the scientific name, Plecia nearctica. The common name "lovebug" has been given to these black colored, orange-backed flies because they are most often seen flying around in mating pairs. The common name "lovebug" has been given to these black-bodied flies (with a bright orange-colored head area) because they are most often seen flying as mating pairs. Even though they are more noticeable as swarms, they commonly occur in less concentrated numbers also.

Soon after rainy periods in early spring and in fall (especially during September and October) in wooded Upper Gulf Coast counties of Texas, lovebugs emerge as adults and mate in swarms. Mass adult emergence typically occurs during these two time periods but environmental conditions that are favorable to the development of immatures (such as prolonged period of soil saturation from high rainfall) influence swarm sizes.

Male and Female Characteristics

The males are about 1/4 inch and the females 1/3 inch in length. Both sexes are entirely black except for red on top of their thoraxes (the middle insect body segment). Entomologists report that males weigh 6 to 10 mg and females 15 to 25 mg. The marked weight difference between sexes is largely due to the ovaries of females which contain 70 percent of the total protein in their body. Males have noticeably larger eyes which are circular. Females have an elongated rostrum (snout-like prolongation of the head).

What Beneficial Role Do They Play?

Female lovebugs lay 100-300 eggs. The immatures or larval stages of lovebugs develop in moist habitats high in organic matter (typically dead leaves and grass) such as roadside ditches, bayous and swampy areas. Immature stages are quite harmless and actually serve as one of nature’s decomposers by recycling organic matter. The adults aid in the pollination process by feeding on the nectar and pollen of flowers.

Distribution of Lovebugs

Lovebugs are native to South America. Over the past few decades, lovebugs have migrated northward to Mexico. Love bugs were first reported in the USA in Galveston, Texas, in the 1940s. Since that time, they have spread outward through states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and even along some states along the Atlantic coast including South Carolina.

What Damage Do They Do?

Adult lovebugs feed on flower nectar. They mate while in flight. Adult lovebugs do not bite or sting humans. Although their behavior and their common name may be amusing, their presence in such large numbers can be somewhat of a nuisance.

Vehicles driven through multiple swarms of lovebugs can be impacted. Radiator fins may become clogged causing cars to over-heat. Insects spattered on the windshields can obscure vision. Be sure to clean off insects that have had a head-on collision with your vehicle as soon a possible as they can also damage the paint finish if left to bake in full sun over several days. Use one of the commercially available products containing petroleum distillates advertised to facilitate the removal of crushed, dried insect parts from auto finishes.

Should Lovebugs Be Controlled?

Lovebugs do not sting or bite. Broad chemical control using insecticides has not been recommended and is generally not effective.

Beneficials in the Garden & Landscape is an Earth-KindTM program coordinated through Extension Horticulture at Texas A&M University. Earth-Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.

 

This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore, under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

All digital photographs are the property of  the Galveston County Master Gardener Association, Inc. (GCMGA) © 2002-2006 GCMGA - All Rights Reserved.