Last year in Memphis I happened to be sharing a park bench with a very proper southern lady. I glanced down to see two strange bugs in copula as they say. Protecting the lady's sensibilities, I brushed them off the bench so she wouldn't see them screwing in front of everybody. Not minutes later, another pair, and still another. appeared on the bench, all of them in copula. The woman noticed my sudden interest in the sex life of bugs and she dismissed them with "they're nothing but love bugs." I should say so! As far as I could tell that's all they did was copulate.

The scientific name for them is Plecia nearctica. In polite society they are called marsh flies, belonging to the Family Bibionidae. Evidently they have migrated up from Mexico and they appear to have taken over parts of Florida. At the moment they are moving both to the southern reaches of Florida and northward into Georgia and South Carolina. Male love bugs live for 2 or 3 days (I don't wonder considering all the pleasuring they do) and the females may live for 1 week or longer, mating with more than one male.

While they do not sting or bite, their great numbers are a nuisance. During the day love bugs spatter windshields in great numbers and may clog up the radiator cooling fins, causing fast moving automobiles to overheat. Their crushed bodies may even damage a car's finish, if the mess isn't cleaned off within a reasonable time.

It's nice to know that so many bugs are having a good time, oblivious of the stir they are causing among humans.

If you ever find yourself driving through the Southeastern US during certain times of year (generally the summer months), be prepared for the entire front end of your vehicle to be coated in a thick layer of insect guts and shattered exoskeletons. Some say they're a genetics experiment gone horribly awry. Some say the University of Florida introduced them to eat the mosquitos that float thick as stormclouds in the summer humidity. Whatever their actual origin is, the end result is the same: massive-scale vehicular insecticide. You've just driven into a swarm of lovebugs!

The lovebug (Plecia nearctica) is a small, black flying insect. It is not, entomologically speaking, a true bug (of the order Hemiptera); it's more akin to a fly (order Diptera). You'll recognize it by the bright red plate on the back of their thorax, right between the wings. You'll also recognize them for the fact that you rarely encounter just one lovebug in flight; they spend most of their lives copulating and furthermore, flying around in huge swarms en couple, abdomens firmly linked end-to-end in reproductive frenzy. It is estimated that the mature lovebug spends more than 2/3 of its life mating; it is worth noting that they tend not to live more than a few days anyway, otherwise, the entire United States would be covered in a feet-thick layer of swarming, fucking lovebugs, much like the Southeast's other major invasive species, the kudzu vine.

Folk legend in my neck of the woods has it that the lovebug came to Florida by way of the University of Florida, who imported them as a way of controlling the mosquito population. Little did they know that the lovebug reproduces like mad (I mean, how could they not know?!? You only ever see them getting their creepy six-legged freak on!), and the rest is history. On a more conspiratorial note, some claim that the lovebug was the result of a cross-breeding program headed by the same University of Florida, which sought to hybridize mosquitos and common houseflies for whatever reason. Perhaps they wished to stimulate Florida's long-suffering car wash industry.

The real origins of the lovebug, however, are far more boring. They originated in Central America and gradually flew and fucked their way up into the States through Texas (which seemed to continue to be the source of many of America's woes for decades hence). By the 1970s, they found Florida and liked it here enough to continue flying around and fucking, and dying in messy droves on the windshields of countless vacationers. Most birds won't eat them (due to their awful flavor), and they have few other predators (aside from spiders, who'll put anything in their palps if it holds still long enough). Combine that with their massive r-selectivity, and you got a recipe for an invasive species.

Despite their utter ubiquity, few researchers have studied the lovebug. It was first described in the 1940s by one D.E. Hardy of Galveston, Texas, who was probably wondering why the paint job on his car was gradually being eaten away, Aliens-style, by these thick clouds of nondescript black insects. Later, in the 1970s, L.A. Hetrick (appropriately enough, of the University of Florida) described them a second time and expanded upon Hardy's work. Apart from those two researchers, little is understood of these insects, who spend almost all of their lives quite literally giving a flying fuck.

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