I have this new neighbor who has recently moved here from Philadelphia. The other day we were out at a play ground with our respective 4-year-old sons, and she was just swatting away with a small rag, at any bug that got in her space. All the while complaining how bad the bugs are here in Houston. At first I thought she was imagining things, because I certainly wasn't getting bitten by any mosquitoes.
As it turns out it wasn't the mosquito that was bugging her, but the Love Bugs. Since I'm so used to them, and since I know they are harmless, I just ignored them. But I guess it can look like a bizarre-two-bodied mosquito to a newcomer. So, I decided it was time to reprise the tip sheet I did on lady bugs from two years ago.
With the warm summer and ample rains, comes the LOVE BUGS. I'm actually getting a lot of questions via our email site about what these bugs are and how to control them. But before I get to all the entomological details of the Love Bug, I want to first put all the rumors to rest. What rumors, you may be asking? There are some urban myths about the Love Bug being a creation from a lab in Florida, and accidentally let loose. These are simply not true. While the Love Bug is mostly a nuisance to motorists - committing kamikaze-like suicide into your automobiles windshield and grill - they are considered a harmless insect. So, why did I kill a bunch of them the other day? Because, they were hanging around a Crape Myrtle that was covered in Aphids. But that's a tip sheet for another day.
The Love Bug (Plecia nearctica) is actually an off spring of the fly, but with a red thorax. (Also known as the honeymoon fly, telephone bug, double-headed bug, united bug, and March fly) The males are a little smaller than the females. We usually see them in pairs, attached at the tails for breeding purposes, hence the name Love Bugs.
As noted, since the Love Bug is considered harmless because it does not bite or sting, it also is often considered a beneficial insect, in that the larval form of the insect lives on decaying matter in the garden. While that may sound disgusting to you and me, it's an important part in helping the breakdown of organic matter. This, in turn helps incorporate nutrients into our soil.
After the larvae pupate in moist areas, the adult fly will emerge. It is the adult fly most of us hate. The adults will feed on the nectar of a wide variety of plants. Their feeding is similar to butterflies and will not harm any of those plants upon which it feeds. Love Bugs fly during the daylight hours when temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Because they congregate in large numbers, the most vulnerable things are our vehicles. Windshields can become obscured and radiators are known to get clogged with these dead insects. The fatty tissues (Bug Spatter-Ick!) can cause damage to a vehicle's finish if not removed quickly.
A well-waxed car is the best deterrent to the spattered bugs, because the waxed finish will allow for quick removal of any dead bugs. Some people have been known to coat the grill and front bumpers of their cars with a light film of baby oil or cooking spray to also make removal of the love bugs a simpler task. For me, car wax is the best defense because one would not have to worry about unknown damage from the other homemade remedies.
So, what about controlling the insect in general? Around your landscape you can spray insecticides if you don't' want the Love Bug, but remember this is a beneficial insect doing good things in the garden. And since they don't bite or sting, you should probably just leave them be.
If you would like to read more about the Myths Surrounding Love Bugs, click here to the Snopes.com website, which is a great place to find all kinds of information about de-bunking rumors/urban myths/old wives tales. In fact, next week I'm going to list a bunch of SNOPES debunked myths as they relate to my world of GardenLine.
In case you have not ordered your copy of it yet, here's the link for ordering my new book "Gulf Coast Gardening with Randy Lemmon."
Until next issue, here's to
Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard
exclusively weekend mornings from 8 to noon
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