By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
The somewhat unseasonably cool weather of the past week has been a pleasant contrast to the hot, humid days to come. Still, the insect population is getting ready for what should be a banner year, at least for most of them.
One of the positive byproducts of the dry weather being experienced in Wakulla County recently is many yellowfly larvae will not hatch. This Horse Fly and Deer Fly relative is a tenacious pest with a vicious and painful bite.
As with many other biting or stinging insects, it is the female yellowfly which bites. She uses knife like mandibles to access the blood of her victims, and is not particular about the source.
The spring hatch, weather limited in 2017, is currently underway in Wakulla County which will create a sudden population eruption, but yellowflies will be active all summer. They hunt during the daylight hours in shade or full sun.
Females deposit egg masses on plants, rocks, sticks or other similar objects usually over water or other favorable larval habitat. Eggs are deposited throughout the life cycle of the female.
After five to 12 days, the eggs hatch and the young larvae drop into the water or mud where they feed on organic debris or prey on other small aquatic organisms. Upon hatching, the larvae burrow into mud or moist earth and begin feeding.
Unfortunately, the lack of water can favor certain insects, such as the lovebug. This controversial insect is the top subject of urban legends, misinformation and wild tales.
The group of pranksters who initiated the rumor claiming the University of Florida released the Lovebug, Plecia nearctica, clearly enjoy the resulting chatter. It is true Florida has flying bugs and this one is a nuisance.
In reality, Lovebugs originated in Central America, but migrated north. By 1949 they had reached Escambia County and today are found in every Florida County.
Embellishing the finish of automobile and trucks is this insect’s specialty. They have a justifiable reputation for etching vehicle paint at the point of impact, but it is a combination of chemical factors at work.
Their body fluids are slightly acidic and capable of damaging the finish slowly. Bacterial action on the Lovebug’s residue increases the acidity if they remain on the vehicle for several days.
These creatures have an unfortunate attraction to compounds in diesel and gasoline exhaust fumes. Hot engines and vehicle vibrations may also contribute to the demise of many unlucky pairs.
Post-appearance chemical control of Lovebugs is pointless. Adult males live for two to three days or a bit longer with females living for a week, if they avoid roadways.
April through May is the largest population emergence of Lovebugs in spring, but this species has been collected in Florida every month of the year except November.
The females lay approximately 350 gray, irregularly-shaped eggs in or on the soil surface under partially decayed vegetable matter which is used for food and shelter. Slate-gray larvae are often found in groups where moisture under the decaying vegetation is constantly present, but not excessive.
No matter the year, there will be flying insect pest. With a warm winter, the year 2017 should produce a bumper crop of all sorts of flying, crawling and digging insects.
To learn more about Wakulla County’s insects, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension website at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco or call 850-926-3931.