MANATEE -- Like the sun rising and setting, lovebugs are a part of nature that are not going away, at least not in Florida and in the Gulf Coast states where they settled in years ago by accident, coming on ships from Mexico and South America.
That's what University of Florida's leading entomology professor, Philip Koehler, says is factual proof, and he says the ongoing, misleading legend that scientists created lovebugs to destroy an out-of-control mosquito population is simply a myth.
"It could be a pretty good season for them since we had a wet winter and they love to feed on moist grass," Koehler said when asked how long they will last this year. "But I can tell you, they will never be eradicated. It's an impossible task, and we don't have the research funding to try and control
them like we did in the early '60s and '70s when they first appeared in a big way in Florida," he said.
Like clockwork, two major lovebug flights occur each year, one in the late spring around mid April through May, and another in the fall, after summer is over and the heat still lingers into September.
For the average resident, the lovebugs are a nuisance when they fly into people's faces or swarm around a swimming pool. But the real problem comes when driving on the highway or the open road. The airborne lovebugs, which are mating when they come out in force, are attracted to shiny car radiators and tend to splatter all over windshields, hoods and grills, sometimes causing damage to the paint of cars if their acid residue is left on for too long.
"Lovebugs have traveled well with our growing highway system, and they feed on the decaying grass along the roadways, so it's a great combination," said Gary Steck, an entomologist with the Florida Department of Agriculture. "If climate change continues and things keep warming up, they could travel further north. It's hard to predict where and how heavy they will invade a region from season to season."
Car washes and auto parts stores like the lovebug season because it's an economic boon. But for the rest of us, we can't help hoping for them to go away for good.
"It's nature, so what are you going to do, but I wish they would fly somewhere else," said Erkan Riza, a businessman from Bradenton who moved here four years ago from New York. "I've learned not to leave them on my car at night, so I wash them off with water and a sponge before I'm done for the day."
"They are what they are. There's not much we can do about them. They will clog up your radiator so spraying a bug remover on the front seems to work pretty well," said Arlene Marler, who along with her husband, Raymond, and their small Yorkie, Cissy, were hard at work on Wednesday afternoon putting the final cleaning touches on their car at the Clear Sunset Car Wash on State Road 64 in Bradenton.
"We're just starting to see them on the roads and the cars are just beginning to come in now with more bugs," said Shanise Brown, manager of Clear Sunset Car Wash, who is readying her sales people to sell Bug Remover packages besides their regular car wash services, since she's experienced more lovebugs in the spring season working in the carwash industry. "There are different chemicals we can spray in the wash which will help repel the lovebugs for a while, but that's about it."
At Advance Auto Parts down the road in Bradenton, the shelves are stocked with bug prewash, a bug and tar spray repellent and netting to strap on the front of a car radiator to keep the bugs away from the windshield.
"We haven't noticed any uptick in sales yet, but there's more to come for sure," said assistant manager Dorian Brooks. "When the lovebugs come, there's always an increase in sales."
"They bug me, and that's all I can say," said Palmetto snowbird Tanya Roth. "I'm just glad I'm going back to Michigan in May."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.