Lovebugs, notorious for their midair mating, are typically rampant twice a year: Once in late April and May and again in late August and September.
But this year, the swarming insects were nowhere to be seen, and Norman Leppla, a professor with the University of Florida’s Department of Entomology and Nematology, is getting calls from across the state asking why.
Leppla fell in love with these particular bugs in 1972, when he moved from Arizona to the Sunshine State on a research grant. His first paper on lovebugs, published two years later, studied their behaviors in Paynes’ Prairie, just outside of Gainesville.
At that point, the lovebug outbreak still was at its peak and Leppla was fascinated by them.
The agglomeration of all his lovebug knowledge is chronicled in Leppla’s 2018 article Living with lovebugs. (He’s now considering writing a sequel: Living without lovebugs.)
While questions about the insects are swirling, Leppla said because lovebugs don’t contribute much to Florida’s ecology, research on their apparent demise would be unlikely to get funding.
The Tampa Bay Times recently spoke with Leppla about what may have happened to Florida’s nonessential nuisances.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
When did you realize the lovebugs had disappeared?
I didn’t really notice it until about maybe last year or the year before. They’ve just sort of tapered off and this year — or at least this season — I haven’t seen any. It just seemed like, “OK, it’s a natural variation.” But then they didn’t rebound and I was very surprised. I have a holly tree outside of my office window, and they’re always abundant there because it’s a source of nectar. But there’s nothing.
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