THE  EXPLORER
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LOVEBUGS...OR NOT-SO-LOVEBUGS

noun_68993_ccThey're Everywhere.

The relentless rain has gifted us with what may be the largest flight of Lovebugs this naturalist has ever experienced.  They are affixed to the screen door and swarming the porch, they have floated into the house and have made it into the guest bedroom upstairs.  I'm finding them in my car and on my clothes.  It had me asking, don't they have a natural predator?  

 

 

 And the answer is no.  No they don't.   In addition to holding what must be the record for tantric coitus by a species, they are so acidic that insectivores won't eat them.  Thank goodness they only have a couple of flights each year or we'd be breathing them.
 
Some things I found out on my search for a predator:
 
THEY WEREN'T ALWAYS FOUND IN SOUTH CAROLINA
Native to Central America, they made their way up to Louisiana by 1911 and over into South Carolina and Georgia by the end of the 20th century.
 
LOVEBUG LARVAE ARE RECYCLERS
Most of their life cycle is spent at ground level eating decaying leaves and plants (yay!), and they stay in this phase for somewhere between 120-240 days.  This is temperature dependent, so the eggs that are laid as a result of this particular baby boom will stay in the larval stage for closer to 240 days as they overwinter.  
 
THE ADULT PHASE IS ALL ABOUT REPRODUCTION
After they pupate (this takes 7-9 days), the males emerge into flight first, then the females.  As soon as the females show up, the males attach themselves to them and start copulating....for days.  After 2-3 days of drifting around, the female separates from the male, lays the fertilized eggs and dies.  <insert sad emoji here>
 
THEY ARE REALLY ACIDIC
So that thing about not having any predators?  The acidity of adult lovebugs makes them unpalatable to  birds and spiders.  In fact, if dead lovebugs (pH of 4.25) are left on the paint or chrome of a car, they can be difficult to remove and cause pitting.
 
TWICE A YEAR (ON AVERAGE) THEY TAKE FLIGHT
It seems like this is the third flight that we've seen this year, but typically they have a spring and late summer flight.  The bugs we're swatting away now were produced by the spring hatch approximately 120-150 days ago.  Since they all seem to pupate at once, they must respond to environmental cues (known as phenology) like ample rainfall, daylength and warm temperatures.
 
Take comfort knowing that they'll be out of our screened porches and attention spans in a couple of days.  And be grateful that Palmetto Bugs don't have flights that mimic the Lovebug.