For many in the United States, May and September mean lovebug season. The lovebug, also known as Plecia nearctica, is a fly species that’s found throughout Southern states in both the fall and spring. The bug has been in the news lately because it’s been ruining vacations. This made us wonder about how the insect could affect our health.
First, a little background about these insects: Lovebugs are small and black, with a “velvety” appearance. They are often identified by the bright red area behind their heads.
Lovebugs are particularly bothersome to people who drive. “The adult flies are a nuisance to motorists because the flies are attracted to highways and spatter on the hood and windshield of vehicles,” according to research on the species from the University of Florida. The bugs can clog radiators and reduce visibility on the road. They can also mess up your car’s paint job.
Lovebugs are perhaps best known for an (untrue) urban legend surrounding them: Some say the bugs were created by entomologists, or people who study bugs. As the legend goes, “Sometime in the 1950s an experiment gone horribly wrong at the University of Florida produced a pesky bug with no apparent purpose,” according to a 2004 University of Florida news release. “The strange-looking insect—commonly known as the lovebug—managed to escape from researchers and began to spread rapidly, wreaking havoc on people and cars.”
It turns out, however, that the lovebug’s arrival in Florida was much less dramatic. It simply migrated to Florida from the Gulf Coast. The insects are also found in Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas.
So are these invasive critters dangerous? Thankfully, no. While they might be a pain to people who are frequently on the road, lovebugs are harmless. “They’re everywhere, but they’re not a hazard. They don’t bite, and they don’t sting,” Douglas Lipka, an assistant professor of biology at William Carey University in Mississippi, told the Associated Press.
While we’re on the topic, though, there are a few other headline-making bugs you should be looking out for this summer. Two of the most worrisome are the kissing bug and the tick.
The kissing bug can cause a potentially-fatal condition called Chagas disease, and it’s been found in the following states: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware.
Kissing bugs usually have red or orange stripes around their bodies, and are bigger than a penny. The bugs, technically known as triatomine bugs, got their nickname from their tendency to bite humans around their mouths as they sleep.
As for ticks (which are technically arachnids, not insects), they can carry a variety of dangerous bacteria—including Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes lyme disease. Lyme disease has been confirmed in every US state, and is especially prevalent in the northeast.
Ticks can attach themselves to any part of the body, and are often found in difficult-to-notice areas, such as the armpits, groin, and scalp. An infected tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours, in most cases, in order to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi to its host. Another tickborne disease, Powassan virus, is less common but can be fatal—and can also be transmitted much faster.
In conclusion, if you’re going camping this summer, you should definitely be on the lookout for creepy-crawlies that have the potential to harm you. But as far as lovebugs are concerned, your sanity is the only thing at risk.