It’s mating season for lovebugs, and there are more of them thanks to a mild winter.
Chris DeMoro made it across Florida’s State Road 60 before the washer fluid ran dry and he knew he was defeated.
The lovebugs had won, coating his windshield like a hard candy shell of insect goo.
At the Port St. Lucie / Fort Pierce Service Plaza on Florida’s Turnpike he toiled Wednesday to scrape away the stubborn residue of the twice annual pestilence with a torn gas station squeegee passed traveler to traveler — a fellowship of lovebug survivors.
“Once you’re out of washer fluid, you’re done,” said DeMoro, of West Palm Beach. “As soon as I get back, I’m going to take the car to a detailer.”
Spring is lovebug mating season. There will be another round in September.
But a mild winter with no hard freezes has led to a banner brood of the nuisance fly, and Central Florida seems to be a hot spot for their courtship, entomologists said.
“Over the past two to three days I’ve gotten more calls than I have in the past seven years,” said University of Florida entomology professor Norman Leppla, who is also director of the school’s Integrated Pest Management Program. “I had a faculty member come in from Vero Beach and she ran out of fluid and couldn’t find any.”
Lovebugs, also called honeymoon flies, get their nickname from their conspicuous mating habits.
Males hover in swarms above the ground, waiting for females to emerge from fertile Earth. They join end to end in a backward embrace that can last up to 12 hours, sailing together on a breeze from flower to flower “much like butterflies,” one report notes.
Or they get splattered onto a vehicle, lumpy white egg masses smeared like oatmeal and velvety black carcasses left to be cleaned by owners breaking a sweat in the May heat.
“I basically couldn’t see anything by the time I got to the last stop,” said Barbara Mitchell, who was driving south Wednesday on Florida’s Turnpike from Kissimmee and was stopped at Port St. Lucie to clean her windshield. “There were so many people there, I was in line 20 minutes.”
University of Florida professor and ecologist Mark Hostetler said there’s nothing that makes lovebug guts worse than other insect innards for a vehicle’s finish. But the bacteria that eats at the squish secretes an acid that, if left in the sun, can mar a paint job.
Hostetler is co-creator of an app called “That gunk on your car” that helps identify bug splatter. Although most drivers in Central Florida this week probably needed no aid in identifying the lovebugs blanketing their vehicles, Hostetler said a telltale sign are the egg masses that smear across windshields.
One traveler tip is to use windshield wipers as little as possible because they spread the mess, making it harder to see. Another tip from Okeechobee County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper is to use dryer sheets to wipe them off.
“Knock the heavy ones off first,” he said Tuesday, demonstrating his technique in front of his bug-covered white Mustang before a multi-county meeting about Lake Okeechobee. “Then use the dryer wipes. By the grace of God it works, or I’d be going crazy right now.”
Culpepper had just washed his car two hours before only to have it quickly covered in a black blanket of bugs.
Lovebugs are not native to Florida, having migrated likely from Central America along the Gulf Coast to take up residence in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and north into Georgia and South Carolina.
After the female lays eggs in the soil, maggots hatch that eat dead plant matter, breaking down the organic material as a beneficial part of creating soil. They don’t munch on lawns, but thrive in warmer temperatures. Florida cities between Jacksonville and Key West monitored by the Southeast Regional Climate Center all experienced their top 10 warmest six-month period ending April 30. Jacksonville, Orlando, Plant City and Gainesville all had their top five warmest six-month period ending April 30.
As adults, lovebugs feed on nectar. One study said they flock to roadways because females, which are bigger than males and lead direct flight when the two are attached, are attracted to the scent of a chemical in gas fumes.
Richard Wheeler, president of Florida Turnpike Services, which runs the service stations at plazas, said the location of lovebug swarms varies each year. This spring, areas between Yeehaw Junction to Canoe Creek south of Orlando are getting hit the worst.
He said stations will put out extra buckets of water and keep an eye on windshield fluid supplies during spring months.
“Lovebug season is kind of like hurricane season,” Wheeler said. “We know it’s coming, and some years are worse than others.”