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Cars Meet Swarms Of Amorous Bugs
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The phrase "love is in the air" takes on a new meaning each spring and fall as love bug swarms take flight in South Mississippi.
Known scientifically as Biblonidae diptera, love bugs are members of the fly family. These black insects have a brownish-colored head and thorax, antennas and compound eyes. They may be most easily recognized by the smudge they leave on the front of automobiles.
Walter Walker, Jackson County Extension agent, said love bugs neither bite nor sting and their only danger is what they do to cars. They get their name from their mating behavior, when they fly around paired. They usually are found south of I-20 to the Gulf Coast.
"Love bugs fly in large swarms and are typically seen from the end of April to the first of June," Walker said. "They breed in decaying vegetation, such as the grass and leaves on the sides of highways that has been cut and left to decay."
Judging from the front of their cars, drivers might think there are more bugs along the roads than anywhere else. Walker said they're not imagining this.
"Love bugs appear to be attracted to the highways by the exhaust from automobiles," he said.
While that attraction is fatal to the insects, David Griffith, sales manager of Red Arrow Car Wash in Gulfport, said the smudges are dangerous to cars if not removed promptly.
"Love bugs actually damage the paint," Griffith said. "In my experience, if you get them off in about three days you're OK, but if you leave them on longer, you're running a significant risk of damage."
Griffith said wax protects the paint, but doesn't prevent all damage. All finishes are susceptible, but damage occurs faster on paints in poor condition. He described the damage as little holes, like an acid-based chemical has been dropped on the paint.
Griffith said business picks up at his car wash during love bug swarming season, but drivers can clean their own cars using chemicals purchased at discount stores that are made to remove bugs. Covers on the front of the car help, as do screens to prevent love bugs from clogging the radiator.
James Jarratt, entomology specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said adult love bugs live just three to six weeks. The bug's life includes hatching as a larvae, pupating and emerging briefly as an adult.
"Mississippi has two generations of love bugs a year," Jarratt said. "The one we see now is generally a little lighter than the one we'll see in September."
Jarratt said fewer spring numbers may be due to winter conditions that kill some of the developing insects. The fall swarm starts as early as the end of August, but most are seen from mid-September to early October.