Quintessentially Lowcountry -- Autumn belongs, unfortunately, to lovebugs

September 25, 2009 

  • • Because they live as adults for only a few days, lovebugs mate for life. Not true. Females sometimes have a second go 'round with another male. • They were created by a genetic experiment gone awry at the University of Florida. Also incorrect. Lovebugs have long inhabited the Gulf Coast and migrated to other places, like South Carolina. The migration perhaps was stoked by the creation of more roads and the transport of sod and other landscaping materials. • Lots of animals eat adult lovebugs. False. Lots of animals, including birds, eat the larvae, but because of the acidic taste of the adults, most critters shy away.

Here in the Lowcountry, there's a bug for every season.

While young couples flock to our sandy beaches for September nuptials, a group of frisky insects also takes to the skies.

Lovebugs, which resemble fireflies, are nature's exhibitionists, engaging in a clumsy, borderline-disgusting mating ritual.

Twice a year -- usually in March and September -- they emerge en masse and hook together end to end. They do their best to fly about while in the 'arms' of their lovers, seemingly flaunting their bond.

Many end up smashed on windshields or caked onto bumpers.

"If the conditions are good for them, you can have hundreds of thousands emerge from a pretty small area," said Clemson entomologist Eric Benson, better known as one of the "bug guys" on ETV Radio. "Adults feed a little on nectar, but pretty much all they have to do is mate, hence the name."

Female lovebugs only live as adults for four or five days; the males die quicker, right after mating. Many females can be seen carting around their dead mates.

During the rest of the year, lovebug larvae -- maggots -- live in the soil, feasting on dead vegetation. Females lay as many as 350 eggs in plant debris. They hatch about three weeks later and can live as maggots for up to nine months, until conditions are right for their emergence.

Lovebugs don't bite humans but can be a nuisance, especially during the mass emergence, when pedestrians and windshield wipers are swarmed by the delicate, black flies with red bands behind their heads.

"They can be in such numbers that it's hard to drive through an area," Benson said. "Roads can actually become slippery from their dead bodies. People have apparently driven off the road because of them."

It's important for people to wash the detritus left behind on their cars. Because of the acidic composition of their bodies, they are known to strip off paint if left unchecked.

"It's kind of neat from an entomological standpoint that they emerge at the exact same time," Benson said.

In the Lowcountry, they mark the best times of the year for outdoor weddings -- spring and fall -- as long as there's not too many of them.

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