As lovebugs swarm, UF researchers working on the perfect trap

They’re back. The pesky fly known as the lovebug is here for one of its three annoying flight seasons in South Florida. The lovebugs, most often seen in male-female pairs, are a nuisance when hordes of them are blown against a vehicle traveling on the highway.

Motorists are left with a sticky white goo that can damage their vehicles’ paint jobs, clog radiators and obscure a clear view through the windshield.

University of Florida entomologists Ronald Cherry at the Everglades Research & Education Center in Belle Glade, and Steven Arthurs at the Mid-Florida Research & Education Center, Apopka, are working together to develop the perfect trap for catching love bugs.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce the population,” said Cherry, who has conducted lovebug research as a sideline to other projects focused on agricultural pests for more than 15 years.

The idea was to find which colors, scents and types of traps attract the most lovebugs. Ultimately, a trap could be marketed for homeowners’ yards. It could also be used in other places, such as gas stations off Florida’s Turnpike, where motorists often encounter large numbers of lovebugs.

Grassy areas and pastures where lovebugs lay their eggs are to blame for swarms near the turnpike. That area is known as the “urban-rural fringe.” The adults also feed on nectar from flowers.

However, years ago some researchers concluded the insects are attracted to the formaldehyde found in gasoline and diesel fumes as well as to hot engines and vehicle vibrations.

“I see a lot of them around gas stations,” Arthurs said. “There is something to that. They are also attracted to freshly painted surfaces.”

Cherry and Arthurs determined the insects favor the colors white and yellow. Cherry speculates the insects have a natural affinity to white and yellow because many flowers are those colors.

They found the lovebugs are drawn to a floral compound called phenylacetaldehyde. It attracted three times as many lovebugs as of couple of other substances they tested. The scent is found in such flowers as the hydrangea and plumeria.

After testing 10 or so kinds of traps, they concluded that a cylinder-shaped yellow-and-white plastic bucket with the lure in the top and an insecticide in the bottom works well to catch and kill the lovebugs.

“Essentially, the trap is fine. What we have been trying to do this year is to develop a commercial lure. The lure is just one we make in the lab,” Arthurs said.

Cherry said the trap is also a valuable tool for biologists to use to learn more about when and where the lovebugs fly.

“Now we need to to determine if they can be controlled,” Cherry said.

Take heart, lovebug haters. The pests’ April to May flight ends soon. Of course, its next mating season, August to September, will be here in a couple of months.

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