Love is in the air; fortunately, it won’t last much longer

Thibodaux Regional Medical Center’s North Hospital project complete
October 20, 2006
Thibodaux Regional Medical Center’s North Hospital project complete
October 20, 2006

Car detailers cashing in on love bug invasion

Love bugs are not always so loveable. They swarm all over the roads, follow us into our houses, and worst of all, we deal with the remains of the unfortunate ones that end up becoming highway casualties stuck to our vehicles.

Why are they all over our cars? Because they mate in swarms all over the roads, said area agent horticulturist Bobby Fletcher Jr., Ph.D. Love bugs are attracted to heat, and the heat from car motors along with steaming black tops are just too irresistible to them, he said.

Yes, love bugs or Plecia nearctica are only a semi-annual nuisance. They are almost completely harmless because they do not bite nor sting, but they can actually cause damage vehicles, Fletcher said. These kamikaze lovers crashing into windshields, grills, and fenders have a high level of acid in their bodies, which can etch automobile paint.

“Insects spattered on the windshields can obscure vision,” he said. “Radiator fins may become clogged causing cars to over-heat, and if the dead insects are not cleaned off, they can ruin the car’s finish.”

“Get Your Shine On” Detail Shop in Houma has been washing many more cars than usual in the last few weeks because the flying mates are splattered all over the front of the vehicles.

“Once the bugs are still fresh is the time to get them off your car. It’s easier to clean them off, and they’ll damage the paint if they are left there for a few days,” said shop manager Tim Jenkins. “People can’t be lazy this time of year. You have to wash your car just about every day.”

Jenkins said some customers claim to still see the love bugs on their cars after a wash, but it is actually where damage was caused because the dead bugs were left unattended for too long.

“People sometimes think the bugs are still there, but it’s holes in the paint of the car that causes black specks that might look like a little part of the bug,” he said.

These invaders have come from Central America and are seen twice a year during the spring (April and May) and late summer (August through September) mostly in the Southeast, Fletcher said. During these times of the year, their sheer numbers transform these innocuous insects into airborne hordes, and outbreaks are predicted to occur within two to three days of any significant rainfall, he said.

“The number of love bugs are decreasing now, and we won’t have to deal with them too much longer,” Fletcher said.

In the meantime, the bugs continue to move en masse.

“They can be so numerous that they look like moving black clouds,” said Dr. Dale Pollet, LSU AgCenter entomologist.  “They will be a nuisance for about three to six weeks. Then when the weather cools, they’ll be gone.” Until then, Pollet too urges car owners to wash off the dead bugs stuck to their vehicles as soon as possible.

It is much more common for the bugs to unintentionally attack cars, but they can also destroy a fresh paint job on a house, especially when a light color is used, Fletcher said.

The heat generated off of the house and the shiny, new, light colors lures them into an unexpected suicide as they remain stuck in the paint. Now is definitely not a good time of the year for exterior painting, he noted, because the bugs love light colors, and they are attracted to the heat and to light.

Although the numbers of late seems high, Fletcher said that the area has really had a lower number than usual because of the widespread drought this spring.

Thanks in large part to the frequent rainfall and intense heat over the past month, conditions of our area are quite conducive to the love bug’s emergence, he said. Love bugs spend five to seven months of the year as larvae in leaf litter and damp swamp area sand near the surface of the soil among the roots of grasses and in pastures under cow manure, he noted.

The bugs breed in moist habitats high in organic matter such as in ditches and swampy areas, making the Tri-parishes are prime mating ground. “Immature love bugs actually help nature by decomposing dead plant tissues,” Fletcher said.  Adults are seen in masses — as they are now — during prolonged periods of soil saturation from rains.

The adult love bugs are actually mating while hovering in the air, he explained. It is usually noticeable that the pairs are seen with one bug larger than the other. The larger bug is the female, who gets her way dragging the male around.    

Although these little creatures are not so cute when smashed into the grill of your vehicle and as their bodies explode on your windshield, Fletcher said there are several other cute names for them: honeymoon fly, telephone bug, united fly and March fly.

 Margot Montet can be reached at (985) 876-3008 or