In the Know: The odd role of love bugs in these coronavirus times

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

They may qualify as bugs, but there ain't much love for the love bug among humans.

Well, except maybe from my perspicacious colleague, Maryann Batlle.

"I, for one, welcome our love bug overlords," Batlle said. "A little bit of normal."

That is true. Not even coronavirus has kept those critters from crudding up your car's chrome.

What's happening?:Latest survey shows worsening effects of coronavirus on SWFL's economy

Another reason to shelter-in-place and spare that windshield from the shameful splatter. Forget the government tracking your cell phone to make sure you're quarantining. They'll just check out your grill.

Naples Councilman Gary Price did just that, telling reporters his secret to figuring out how potentially infected interlopers invaded our local shores over the weekend like it was the Fourth of July.

Mating love bugs are seen on the vehicle of News-Press Photographer Andrew West on Monday, May 11, 2020.

"Most of the cars in the parking lots had a lot of love bugs on them,” Price said. “And what’s interesting, if you drive around Naples, and our average speed is probably 10 miles an hour, you’re not going to get love bugs on your car. So it tells me that people are coming from other places.”

Stopping short of steamrolling the Welcome to Naples signs at the city limits and converting the entire metropolis into one giant gated community, the council reduced beach hours this week to try to keep out their undesirables.

But it did nothing about banning the little horny devils with their disregard for social distancing through their diminutive public displays of affection. Yo, keep it in your pants, bug.

Whoa. Slow down, says Patti Fowle of the almost three-decade-old Naples Car Wash.

The insect shimmying has its economic benefits, especially during these pandemic times. Like for the Fowle family-run firm, which has gone from highs of up to 500 cars on the best days before COVID-19 to less than 20 percent of that.

"Everyone has an inch-thick of love bugs on their vehicles today," Fowle said Tuesday as autos rolled into the debugging operation at 2595 Tamiami Trail E. between Davis Boulevard and Bayshore Drive. "They have helped boost business." 

In other news:Public tells state to slow down on controversial toll roads

And we're at the front end of the twice-a-year obnoxious orgy after a 2019 that many agree may have been the worst in at least two decades. Will this be a repeat after yet another global warming-induced mild winter that has received the blame in the past?

"They seem worse than last year," North Fort Myers resident Debbie Lightbody Tripp said Tuesday. "I didn't even want to get out of my car earlier. They were swarming too bad."

Fowle said she's not ready to draw comparisons yet, but it's off to a pretty strong beginning.

"Love bug season is just starting, but lots of them so far. We see them on every car that has been on I-75,"  said Fowle, who notes they're "worse inland because they breed and hide" in the natural field grasses. "Last year was truly awful."

She described a drive back home from Melbourne that took the better part of a day as she battled the buggers in their debauchery, and she has the photos to prove it.

The "car was washed twice on the trip, and windshield cleaned every 30 minutes," Fowle said. "The stench was awful, and the engine was filled with them."

Among the photos of Naples resident Patti Fowle's love bug odyssey from Melbourne to Southwest Florida during one of the worst seasons anyone can remember. She washed her car twice during the journey and had to clean the windshield every half-hour. As an expert in her field, she was able to make her vehicle sparkle again.

Fowle knows her stuff, and clearly she doesn't mess around when it comes to these compact creatures.

"Wash your car within 24 hours or the acid from them will start to burn your paint and plastics," she said. "They can clog your radiator and cause your engine to overheat. The smell of them cycles through your car. We use special chemicals with high pressure water to get them off safely.  If really bad, we will use brushes as a last resort."

The task hasn't been made easier for the crew there with the threat of the virus, but then again, cleanliness is their specialty.

"We are sanitizing all common areas continually,"  Fowle said. "All employees have been offered gloves and masks. We installed Apple Pay for contactless payment."

The buzz

Whether discussing them, like Tripp did, in Facebook, the grocery store or driveway social distancing gatherings, the invertebrates have been a nice distraction this week from the mounting coronavirus cases and deaths. Folks have been sharing images of the indignities inflicted to their cars like they're works of art, portraits of their grandkids or snapshots of sunsets.

"It was raining love bugs on 75," Helene DeAngelis Nahm said Monday, describing her journey from Tampa to Fort Myers. "Took two car washes, a dryer sheet and some old-fashioned scrubbing." 

By the way:Myths about lovebugs are harder to kill than the pesky insect that plagues Floridians, visitors

The interstate, along with more rural places like Alva, Alligator Alley, Immokalee and LaBelle, came up a lot in discussions.

There's always a lot of debate about what works best to remove the remnants from the nasty dance. If folks aren't going to pluck down the $20 for a professional car wash, they should use suggestions at their own discretion.

Along with the popular dryer sheets, ideas this week, for good or bad, included baby shampoo, Pledge, hydrogen peroxide and Coca-Cola, a "soft" drink that also eats away corrosion off your battery.

"Mr. Clean makes the Magic Eraser (that) worked for us,' said resident Terry Canto Fields. "Doesn't scratch your windshield either."

But others argued these remedies could take the finish off your vehicle, and that options such as baby oil or cooking spray may streak your car.

Dead love bugs are seen on the vehicle of News-Press Photographer Andrew West on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Gators are familiar with these predators

The University of Florida, which like China has been blamed for debunked experiments gone awry, offers its own take including battling the myth its scientists tried to genetically modify the bugs to rid the state of mosquitoes:

  • ORIGINS: Contrary to popular belief, the University of Florida did not introduce the love bug to the state. During the 20th century, love bugs migrated from Central America, traveling through Texas and Louisiana before arriving in Florida.
  • ATTRACTANTS: Love bugs are attracted to decomposing plant debris, but may confuse these odors with chemicals in exhaust fumes. Heat also attracts love bugs. Both of these factors can lead them to congregate around highways.
  • ACTIVE TIMES: Love bugs are usually active between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. in temperatures above 84 degrees.
  • MATING SEASON: Mating peaks last about four weeks in May and September. Typically, two main generations occur during this time, but the insects can be seen throughout the summer.
  • PROBLEMS: Love bugs are mainly a nuisance. They do not bite, sting, or transmit diseases and are not poisonous. They can damage automobile paint if they are "baked" in the sun.
  • SOLUTIONS: After a love bug-filled drive, wash your car with water and scrub it to remove the love bugs. A hood air deflector or screen will reduce the number of spattered love bugs on your car. Using car wax will protect an automobile's paint.
  • PESTICIDES: Chemical controls are ineffective, as the love bug is widespread and continually drifts onto highways from adjacent areas.

Did you know?:If you're curious about that bug splattered on your windshield, there's an app for that

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.