Home & Garden

You don't have to love them but do learn to live with love bugs

Most "bugs" aren't bugs. And, that goes for love bugs. They're flies.

This time of year, and again around September, these amorous kamikazes begin appearing in huge numbers. Anyone driving through the Gulf Coast states will have experienced the splitter-splatter of little feet smashing into their windscreen.

If you're quick, you can wash off the first wave with your windshield wipers. In most instances, all you manage to do is smear their crushed corpses across the glass.

Love bugs migrated here from the west. They were first identified in Texas around 1940. But, they were already quite numerous in the eastern part of Texas having moved up from Central America a few decades earlier. Now, they are found from Texas to Florida and up into the Carolinas.

Considering that they don't bite, sting or spread disease, love bugs rank right up there with cockroaches, mosquitoes and fire ants when it comes to the displeasure they cause. The reason we encounter so many love bugs with our various vehicles is due to a chemical reaction between their exhaust fumes and ultraviolet radiation.

Love bugs confuse the volatiles created by the reaction with the smell of the rotting vegetation in which they lay their eggs. The mowed grass decomposing along our highways has made those thoroughfares ideal habitats for those flies. Plenty of rain and mild winters increase their numbers even more.

Their tendency to splatter their bodies across the fronts of our vehicles doesn't endear them to us despite their name. In sufficient numbers, they can clog radiators and may cause vehicles to overheat.

Windscreens coated with smeared bodies can seriously obscure vision and a car's paint finish can be degraded by the rotting bodies of love bugs. Decaying love bugs release an acid that, over time, will etch paint surfaces.

As bacteria interact with this gunk, more acid is released. A good soaking with water for about five minutes, followed with 15 to 20 minutes of scrubbing, will generally remove most of the dead bodies without harming the surface. A hood deflector or screen can significantly reduce the number of love bug death dives onto your car.

Love bugs are creatures we have to learn to live with. Their numbers can be so high and their distribution so great that no economic means of controlling them exists. A number of years ago, the USDA attempted to control love bugs along a Florida interstate highway by applying insecticides. They were successful in eliminating them from the highway for a grand total of 30 minutes. Research is still being conducted. But, as of today, no treatments are currently at the point where they can be used.

If you want to reduce the impact of love bugs, try driving early in the morning or late in the evening when they are less active. You can also try (no laughing, please) driving slower, walking or riding a bike.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.