One usual spring and fall staple has been missing from the sky in 2020, though people might not be taking notice of it. Lovebugs have not graced our air and cars this year, but why?
The Life of the Lovebug
“Lovebugs are members of the fly family Bibionidae,” professor of biology at Sam Houston State University Dr. Sibyl Bucheli said. “The word ‘bibio’ in Italian means ‘small fly generating from wine’ and was the common name given to any fly that fed from rotting fruit matter (or wine).”
Lovebugs live through three stages of life: egg, pupal and adult.
Female lovebugs lay their eggs inside of decomposing grass and organic matter, like soil, which then hatch into larvae.
Lovebug larvae play an important role in the ecosystem by acting as decomposers that help break down the layers of dead plants and animals.
“Once they become adults about their only function is to reproduce and that’s where they get the name lovebug,” professor of biology at SHSU Dr. Jerry Cook said. “Because that is what they are doing, they are reproducing, and they are very short lived.”
Adult lovebug mating can last up to 56 hours with hopes to ensure fertilization. While trying to mate, adult female lovebugs live for about a week, while the males live for about 2 to 3 days.
Invasive or Just Alien Species
Around the 1940s, lovebug larvae were introduced to Galveston from Central America. In less than a century, the species slowly spread across gulf states through the turf grass industry, cargo ships and other means.
Species accidentally introduced into a new ecosystem can be either defined as an alien or an invasive species. To fall into the invasive species category, they must cause some kind of damage to their new home.
“When [lovebugs] are out in big numbers, they get all over your windshield when you are driving, things like that, because it’s a nuisance, some people may classify it as invasive,” Cook said.
While lovebugs can be a pest to humans, the species benefits the ecosystem by decomposing organic materials and sometimes helping the process of pollinating plants when adults.
The Future of the Lovebug
The species benefits from warm, moist seasons, so larvae can develop quickly, and adult swarms can survive. If the Texas region experiences a dry season, like this summer, many larvae will die due to lack of moisture in the soil. With the species being dependent on the weather, the swarms change in size every year.
“In a year or a few years, we’ll have a big number of them, and we may have a year or a few years where we don’t see very many of them,” Cook said.
While the weather is the primary reason for dwindling numbers, several fungi do feed on lovebugs and have created smaller numbers in certain areas.
Even though the species does play a role in the ecosystem, they could disappear without hurting other plants, animals and insects.
“Because Plecia nearctica is an invasive species that have been here for less than a century, should they disappear, it would hardly change the ecosystem other than if they were able to out compete our native muck feeders, we might see a return of those animals,” Bucheli said.