Untamed Lowcountry

Can all those Lowcountry lovebugs actually hurt your car? And 5 more questions you’ve been asking about them

Dead lovebugs dot the front of this car. The bugs are active in May and September.
Dead lovebugs dot the front of this car. The bugs are active in May and September. Staff photo

Most people use the word “lovebug” as a term of endearment.

They picture cute cartoon bugs on the front of greeting cards or refer to an affectionate couple as “lovebugs.” Maybe they even hum the tune from The Little Rascals serial.

But southerners know better.

In the South, “lovebug” is a dirty word. It makes your skin crawl.

There’s nothing cute about the picture in your head: A thick, black cloud of swarming, seemingly double-headed insects.

We all know they’re annoying.

But how much do you really know about lovebugs?

What are lovebugs?

Lovebugs, March flies, honeymoon flies — those are the most common names for the pesky critters.

The lovebugs that we see here in the Lowcountry are scientifically known as “Plecia nearctica.” They have slender, black bodies with bright orangish-red heads.

The females are slightly larger than the males due to their large ovaries, according to the University of Florida. Females are about one-third of an inch while males are only around a quarter of an inch.

Lovebugs have a short lifespan, but they reproduce rapidly.

In fact, lovebugs live “just long enough” to mate and lay their eggs, the university says. The typical lifespan is only three to four days.

Are they really mating in the air?

Two Love Bugs

It’s true: Lovebugs are multi-taskers. Those swarms you see are mating flights.

This strange mating ritual is how they got their name.

Twice a year — around May and September — lovebugs swarm the skies. That double-headed appearance is what you see while they’re mating.

The couples attach to one another while on the ground, then take flight. They can stay connected for hours.

Males “transfer their nutrients to the females” during the flights to aid in reproduction, information from Clemson University says. The mating ends when the female releases the male.

It’s a competitive environment.

Six or more males might fight over the same female, according to Clemson. And the fights don’t stop once a ‘couple’ is attached; larger males can try to break up a couple and mate with the female.

And females can hang on for another day or two to take part in a second mating flight.

Why are there so many of them?

Female lovebugs can lay up to 600 eggs. The eggs are deposited beneath “decaying plant material,” according to Clemson.

Their mating seasons only last for about four weeks. So for two months a year, the lovebugs take over.

They’re most active during the daytime — specifically from around 10 a.m. until dusk.

Are they just a southern thing?

Lovebugs are a true southern nuisance.

The species ranges from Texas to the Carolinas. They’re also found in South America.

Can they hurt my car?

Some people don’t even bother washing their car until October.

And the wipers don’t help; they only smear.

The tiny black bodies dot the front of your car, stuck in the grill and on the paint.

If it’s hot out, they’ve already hardened before you’ve had a chance to remove them.

And that’s not all.

The bugs’ acidic body fluids can strip your paint and even cause pitting of the car’s finish, so don’t let the mess sit there too long before you wash your car.

Lovebugs can also clog your radiator and cause your car to overheat.

Clemson University suggests using a screen or protective cover over the car’s grill to keep the bugs out of the radiator and keeping your car well-waxed.

The quicker you remove the bugs, the easier the job will be. If you remove them fast enough, a simple wash should do the trick.

If the bugs have baked in the sun, try spraying some WD-40 on them. Let it sit for a few minutes. Then use a microfiber cloth the wipe the bugs off.

Some say dryer sheets also work.

Can they hurt me?

Lovebugs can’t harm humans. So while they’re one of the most annoying bugs in the Lowcountry, they’re not a controlled species like mosquitoes.

Besides, the bugs are resistant to most pesticides, and Clemson University says attempts to control them would do more harm than good. The insecticides would kill already endangered species such a honeybees.

The best thing you can do is continue to wipe them off your car — and pray for October to come quickly.