Natural Selections: Plecia Nearctica (Lovebugs)

First described in the year 1940, the amorous flies entered Louisiana ports as unidentified passengers on a ship from Central America and spent the rest of the century spreading throughout the Gulf states. Today, they invade our world in cloud-like droves, congregating in nearly every outdoor space, making trouble for truck drivers, house painters and talkative cyclists.

NAME GAME The genus name “Plecia” is likely derived from the Greek word “pleo, ” meaning “to sail, ” referencing the insect’s smooth, graceful flight. Other nicknames include honeymoon flies, double-headed bugs, March flies, united bugs and several expletives that are not appropriate for print.

FEELING THE HEAT They are attracted to warmth and confuse the smell of exhaust fumes with that of the decaying matter they feed on, which explains why they congregate around highways. Bugmaster’s Austin Key says you can prevent stuck-on lovebugs by driving at night and mid-morning, as well as applying a light film of baby oil over your front hood and bumper. If you’re too late, clean the critters off as quickly as possible with Johnson’s baby shampoo or wet dryer sheets.

LOVE IN THE AIR “Lovebug season fluctuates every year, ” Key says. “We usually have a spring swarm and then another in early fall. Their number depends on the harshness of winter and when temperatures things heat up.”

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IT'S ALIVE! It is a well-known myth that the flies are the result of a biogenetic experiment gone awry at the University of Florida. Rumor has it that scientists attempted to genetically engineer a mosquito-eating predator to no avail, and the resulting lovebugs escaped. This is highly unlikely, however, due to the insect’s slow and herbivorous nature. 

TWERK IT Mating takes place when swarms of males rhythmically oscillate up and down, waiting for a female to fly into their midst, at which point she is grasped by a male and attachment occurs. 

TILL DEATH “The reason that you find them coupled is because the male doesn’t want her to mate with any other males, ” says University of South Alabama biology professor, Dr. John McCreadie. “It’s always a 1-1 mating.” Once the male dies, they seperate, and the female deposits up to 600 eggs before also dying. 

GRILL MAGNETS “No one really knows why, but lovebugs are very much attracted to the color white, ” McCreadie says. “If there’s a white car and a black car, they will head straight for the white one.”

Natural Selections is a new department that focuses on local flora and fauna. Email topic suggestions to us at [email protected].

text by HALEY POTTS • illustration by kelan mercer

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