MANATEE -- They are the stuff of conspiracy theories, myth and legend.
And the subject of scholarly papers as well as the bane of drivers who encounter them in vast swarms this time of year.
They are, of course, lovebugs.
Bill Hoog of Myakka was cleaning the windshield of a late model car this week at the Hess Express station at 11002 State Road 64 E.
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“I have a new car sitting in the garage at home, and I don’t even think about taking it out,” Hoog said.
“The lovebugs are really bad between Verna Bethany Road and Interstate 75,” he said.
One gas aisle over, the front end of Jay Dickerson’s pickup truck was encrusted with lovebugs, a reminder of his drive from Arcadia. He had business to tend to after filling up, and would leave the lovebug cleanup for later.
A few miles away, Sonny Gatanis of Heritage Harbour was in a Bradenton car wash, his Jeep covered in suds.
“I’m washing it three times a week,” Gatanis said.
The reality for Florida drivers in April and May and again in August and September is that they will encounter lovebugs on Florida roads and streets.
How many depends in part on wind patterns, said Lisa Hickey, master gardener coordinator at the Manatee County Extension office in Palmetto.
Lovebug pairs are not strong fliers, according to “Living with Lovebugs,” a University of Florida fact sheet. They tend to remain within a few hundred yards of where they emerge when there is little or no wind.
This time of the year, the Extension office takes many phone calls from residents about lovebugs.
Motorists can protect their car with a coating of wax and frequent washing. Allowing a crust of lovebugs to remain on a car’s exterior for more than 24 hours can endanger its finish.
But it is a myth that body fluids from lovebugs will immediately dissolve paint.
Hickey and University of Florida scientists urge tolerance in dealing with lovebugs, noting that they are a nuisance but not a threat to humans or the environment.
“Insecticides are expensive, potentially harmful and of no value in controlling lovebugs. It is best just to avoid lovebugs if they become a nuisance during their brief appearances each year,” according to “Living with Lovebugs.”
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.