There’s no love lost for these bugs

Published 7:24 am Friday, September 2, 2016

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a bit buggy out.

‘Tis the season for lovebugs, those two-headed flying pests that splatter across windshields from August through September. So named due to their uniquely lengthy coupling, the bugs don’t bite, sting or carry any diseases, though they manage to be annoying anyway. This is because the bugs are everywhere and also because their guts are both slightly acidic and difficult to remove, meaning if (or, more likely, when) they splatter across your car’s exterior, they can damage the paint. On the other hand, if the lovebugs are splattered across a car, that’s fewer lovebugs in the world overall, so that’s nice.

Given the present dangers associated with mosquitos I suppose we should be grateful car paint and windshields are the only victims of these insects, but that doesn’t seem right. Mosquitos are relatively easy to avoid; wearing long sleeves, staying indoors and bug spray can keep exposure to mosquitos to a minimum while lovebugs find their way on everything. This week I found myself out in the country and, upon opening my car door, in flew a small swarm of the bugs. I while I suppose that’s better than ending up as so many others, splattered across my headlights, hood and windshield, a carful of crawling bugs is hardly ideal.

The interesting thing about lovebugs is, apparently they’re new. According to researchers, they’re native to Latin America and were only first described in the U.S. in Galveston in 1940 and in those days, the bugs were limited to Texas and Louisiana. Today, they’re found all along the Gulf Coast so, along with hurricanes, mosquitos and floods, we have annual swarms of acidic pests to deal with, too.

A report from the University of Florida says it’s no coincidence the bugs end up splattered on so many cars. In fact, researchers found, they’re quite attracted to automobiles.

According to the report, “lovebugs are attracted to irradiated automobile exhaust fumes (diesel and gasoline) when the ultraviolet light incident over the highway ranges from 0.3 to 0.4 microns (3,000 to 4,000 angstroms) between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., with a temperature above 28 degrees Celsius. Hot engines and the vibrations of automobiles apparently contribute to the attraction of lovebugs to highways. … Formaldehyde and heptaldehyde were the two most attractive components of diesel exhaust.”

This is not unlike the mosquito, in that mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide, or evidence of human or animal life, from whence they may extract blood. Of course, what evolutionary path would lead anything to develop an affinity for formaldehyde and car engines, I don’t know; but there you are.

There doesn’t seem to be much way to get rid of the bugs and, to be fair, they don’t do much other than annoy motorists, so I suppose there’s no reason to organize a campaign against them. However, I do lament that our neighbors to the north do not yet share in our annual tradition scraping off lovebugs off of car hoods.

Though I assume, as temperatures rise, the bugs will travel north, and soon this distinctly coastal concern will come to the attention of the nation at large. When it does, I’m sure we’ll get a slew of seasonal stories featuring lovebugs and their love of car exhaust. But, when that happens, you can point out you heard it here first.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor of The Daily News. You can email him at or call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301.