Local News

Love bug infestation is under way in Highlands

SEBRING - They're called love bugs, but Highlands County resident certainly have nothing but disdain for them. "I hate them," said Sebring High School student Anna Froelich, adding that she's spent time over the last few days sweeping the insects out of her house. UPS deliveryman Deek Leeks swatted one away from his eye as he was delivering a package Tuesday afternoon. The Lake Wales resident said he's never seem them this bad in the 23 years he's been doing this job. "I'm actually eating these things," Leeks said.
It's that time of year again, when people swat at their faces almost as soon as they step out of the house. Love bug season has descended on Florida again, and some here in Highlands County say it's the worst they've ever seen. Is that the case, or is it because last year's season was relatively mild due to dryer conditions? "This is about normal," said Randy Gornto, livestock agent with the Highlands County Livestock Extension Office. "They're attracted to water sources." Norm Leppla, program director for the University of Florida's Integrated Pest Management, said the love bugs' appearance in May is based upon environmental cues. "They spend most of their time on the soil surface, or under leaves," he said. "They reach their extent of growth and then emerge, based on environmental cues. This time of year, the cue would be increase of temperature." This cue allows the bugs to come out at the same time in order to maximize reproduction, according to Leppla. "The end of their lives, the females lay the eggs in a vegetated place on the soil surface," he said. "Vegetated can be leaf litter or cow feces." So, the love bugs are attracted to moisture and heat. It appears they're also attracted to white objects. "If you look at anything white, they just (are drawn) to white," said Jim Higgins, general manager of Sebring Love Bugg's Car Wash. "I don't know what the attraction is, but it is." The love bugs are also detrimental to a motorist's car, which Gornto attributes to the insect's body chemistry makeup. "They will eat through the paint," he said. Higgins compares the love bugs to a paint stripper, in the way they can damage a vehicle's look. He said it's imperative that residents wash their cars every day to keep them in good condition "There's no replacement for soap and water, and you've got to scrub it," Higgins said. "Rain won't do it." His business has definitely seen a sharp uptake in the number of customers over the past several days. "We've been packed out with cars," said Love Bugg's manager Teresa Wright. "There was days last week ... there was as many as 263 cars in just one day." On their busiest days, the car wash has around seven attendees doing pre-scrubs on the vehicles. Information from the University of Florida's entomology department states that placing a large screen in the front of the grill will protect the finish on the front of the car. Recently waxed cars are also ideal, as it makes it easier to remove the love bugs. Gornto said these seasons generally last four to six weeks. After that, when mating season is over, they go back into hiding. Where do they hide? Pastures and moist areas, according to Gornto. He added that you can often run into great clouds of love bugs if you're around marshy properties. Being free from the love bugs for another few months can't come soon enough for people like Maria Astorquiza, another hater of the seasonal insects. "You need to clean your car every day," she said.

Highlands Today reporter Brad Dickerson can be reached at (863) 386-5838 or bdickerson@highlandstoday.com