Flying united: Love bugs a sticky problem for bikers, drivers

John Seefried uses a degreaser to clean the front end of a Uhaul covered in lovebugs fresh off of Alligator Alley at Parrot Head Detailing.  The lovebug population increases between the months of April-May and again in August-September in the Southern regions of the United States.  They are found in denser populations in the middle of the state where there are pastures providing an abundance of decaying organic matter good for larva reproduction and they also consume the organic matter to survive. The love bug emigrated from Central America into Texas and later moved East up the Gulf Coast eventually arriving in Florida in the 1940's.   Manuel Martinez/Staff

Photo by MANUEL MARTINEZ // Buy this photo

John Seefried uses a degreaser to clean the front end of a Uhaul covered in lovebugs fresh off of Alligator Alley at Parrot Head Detailing. The lovebug population increases between the months of April-May and again in August-September in the Southern regions of the United States. They are found in denser populations in the middle of the state where there are pastures providing an abundance of decaying organic matter good for larva reproduction and they also consume the organic matter to survive. The love bug emigrated from Central America into Texas and later moved East up the Gulf Coast eventually arriving in Florida in the 1940's. Manuel Martinez/Staff

The Lovebugs are back

How to protect yourself and your car ...

Love bug seasons are in April-May and August-September.

Swarming, during which the adults emerge and partner up, occurs primarily from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

— Love bug season in Southwest Florida is a stubborn, sticky time for drivers who have to scrape insect debris off the front of the car to avoid paint damage.

But try getting them out of your beard.

“When I go through a cloud, you don’t want to hug me,” said Dean Lindquist, a local motorcycle rider known as the Mayor for the resemblance his stature and facial hair bear to the “The Wizard of Oz” character.

In between the patches on the front of his black leather vest and around his matching angle-heeled boots are the telltale flecks of gray he couldn’t remove after recent rides.

Bugs in your whiskers and on your clothes may be one price to pay for choosing two wheels over four during the biannual love bug seasons, in April-May and August-September, but seasoned riders know there is more to it.

Smart riding right now means motorcycle riders have to pull over regularly during daytime runs to clean off their goggles and, for the more protected, the small windshields on their bikes. Swarming, during which the adults emerge and partner up, occurs primarily from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Since the peak time for love bugs to be out is during daylight, night riders will have an easier time avoiding them.

“Your destination can’t get in the way so that you don’t pull over when you should,” said Alan Harris, a sales associate at Naples Harley Davidson.

“Twenty minutes of hard riding will fill it up pretty fast,” he estimates after a drive to Lake Okeechobee last weekend that required constant stops to clean off bug splatter that impaired visibility.

The lovebug population increases between the months of April-May and again in August-September in the Southern regions of the United States.  They are found in denser populations in the middle of the state where there are pastures providing an abundance of decaying organic matter good for larva reproduction and they also consume the organic matter to survive. The love bug emigrated from Central America into Texas and later moved East up the Gulf Coast eventually arriving in Florida in the 1940's.   Manuel Martinez/Staff

Photo by MANUEL MARTINEZ // Buy this photo

The lovebug population increases between the months of April-May and again in August-September in the Southern regions of the United States. They are found in denser populations in the middle of the state where there are pastures providing an abundance of decaying organic matter good for larva reproduction and they also consume the organic matter to survive. The love bug emigrated from Central America into Texas and later moved East up the Gulf Coast eventually arriving in Florida in the 1940's. Manuel Martinez/Staff

The flight of these small flies lasts about five weeks in spring and fall, and they concentrate around areas with more decaying organic matter like preserves and farms. University of Florida entomologists describe them as a “nuisance pest,” rather than destructive or dangerous.

They become all the more bothersome without a thick windshield or windows to roll up.

“The thing about it you don’t notice in a car – they smell,” added Randy Bryant, a Naples motorcycle rider.

“They don’t taste good either,” he said with a laugh.

Despite their plague-like cult status in Florida, research into love bugs isn’t a priority for scientists since the only economic loss comes from individuals paying for car washes and paint jobs.

Though the flies are an invasive species with no good natural enemies in Florida, the funding to research and deal with the population in the state is absent.

The last big push to study the unashamedly amorous insects was in the 1960s, when their numbers in the state were much higher and the nuisance even greater, said John Capinera, chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Entomology.

The lovebug population increases between the months of April-May and again in August-September in the Southern regions of the United States.  They are found in denser populations in the middle of the state where there are pastures providing an abundance of decaying organic matter good for larva reproduction and they also consume the organic matter to survive. The love bug emigrated from Central America into Texas and later moved East up the Gulf Coast eventually arriving in Florida in the 1940's.   Manuel Martinez/Staff

Photo by MANUEL MARTINEZ // Buy this photo

The lovebug population increases between the months of April-May and again in August-September in the Southern regions of the United States. They are found in denser populations in the middle of the state where there are pastures providing an abundance of decaying organic matter good for larva reproduction and they also consume the organic matter to survive. The love bug emigrated from Central America into Texas and later moved East up the Gulf Coast eventually arriving in Florida in the 1940's. Manuel Martinez/Staff

“Ideally you would go to Central America and find the natural enemy. That takes time and money, and those are in short supply these days,” he added.

While for the state, love bugs may not be a fiscal nuisance, inattentive vehicle owners might feel differently. Spattered love bugs left on a car and exposed to sunlight will turn acidic in 24 hours, which can damage paint.

Doug Brann, owner of Doug Brann Paint & Body Repair in Naples, said old and new vehicles are as equally susceptible.

“That acid is so strong from the love bug, it will eat right through anything,” said Brann, who learned the hard way after not rinsing off his wife’s new car following a trip across Alligator Alley several years ago.

He ended up repainting the front of the one-week-old car.

Wax might help protect the paint jobs, but there are no guarantees. Cooking spray is touted as an at-home remedy but can discolor certain car finishes and isn’t recommended.

A clear lacquer painted on the front of the car can provide an extra barrier of protection. It will run car owners around $500; a new paint job costs at least twice that.

The cheapest, though most labor-intensive solution, is rinsing off bug debris within 24 hours to help neutralize the acid, Brann suggested.

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Comments » 1

captnjimbo writes:

I will share a discovery with everyone.

I am not sure if all fabric softener sheets will work but the Bounce fabric softener sheet and a water hose will easily remove your love bug smatterings. Works on glass and paint and the clear plastice headlight shields.

Hose down the area, take the sheet and wipe over the plastered bugs. The result is a sliperry solution that softens the bugs and they wipe away. Larger deposits may require some extra rubbing. No brushes needed. Rinse well.

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