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Old May 4th, 2003, 10:03 AM
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Lovebugs can be beneficial, experts claim

Lovebugs can be beneficial, experts claim

BY DOUANE D. JAMES
SUN STAFF WRITER

UF researchers say compared to other bugs, they're a good problem to have.

Drought or no drought, rain or no rain, North Central Florida residents will just have to learn to live with lovebugs.

And, while they are a nuisance to motorists, one University of Florida entomologist says lovebugs are a good problem to have.

"They will not hurt pets, they're not poisonous (and) they don't bite," said Norm Leppla, an entomologist at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The adult lovebugs usually emerge for a few weeks of flight in May and September. For most of the rest of the year, the insects act as a type of fertilizer, he said.

The lovebug larvae eat decaying leaves and dead grass and recycle those nutrients back into the soil through their waste.

"Their entire lives they are beneficial, we just don't see them," said Leppla, a longtime researcher of the species, which migrated here and to much of the Southeast from Central America.

Although spiders catch a few of the lovebugs in their webs, many predators such as birds and lizards pay no attention to the flies, entomologists say.

As for using insecticides to get rid of them, entomologists agree that would not be worth doing with a population so widespread.

"Spraying the adults wouldn't be effective," Leppla said. "It kills them off for a little while, then they come right back."

This year, the wetter-than- normal winter has helped the lovebugs emerge earlier than normal, said John Capinera, chairman of the entomology and nematology department at UF.

"They've been in the soil developing and their ability to emerge, and their ability to prosper, seems to be related to moisture," Capinera said.

Jasmine Rodriguez of Classic Car Wash on Archer Road said customers started complaining about the lovebugs about three weeks ago.

"People who commute here from Ocala on (Interstate 75) - for them it's horrible," she said, referring to how cars come in with dozens of the black-and-orange insects caked on their hoods, bumpers and windshields.

Lovebugs, also known as "honeymoon flies" in Louisiana, got their name because by the time people see the coupled bugs in flight, they've already mated.

Leppla said the current hypothesis among entomologists is that the male holds onto the female to keep other males from charging up and mating with her.

Other research supports the idea that the short-lived creatures can fly farther while together, as they feed on nectar and flower pollen during daylight hours.

Any time people fuss about how much of a bother it is to clean the remains of the insects off their vehicles, Leppla said, they should remember the unappealing traits of other bugs. Just compare the lovebugs to mosquitoes or black flies, which both can carry disease, he said.

Black flies are one of a family of flies common in the North and in Canada that emerge in springtime and bite around people's ears and hairline and leave a painful welt on the skin that's sore for days.

"Little old lovebugs don't hurt anyone," Leppla said. "We're very fortunate to have these little guys around."
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