In the spring, a young man's fancy lightly turns to … scrubbing the love-bug guts off the grill of his car.
Or in the case of 20-year-old Cody Ellis of Tampa, scrubbing the remains off his dad's Roush Mustang. With a 427 cubic-inch engine under the hood, the muscle car did pick up a few dead passengers on its grill during a recent trip to Anna Maria Island.
Ellis scrubbed off every bit of bug at a Brandon car wash Sunday afternoon. It wasn't easy — he had to pressure-spray, scrub and spray over and over.
Interstate or county road, it doesn't matter, he said. "You pick them up all over."
The spring love-bug season seems to be lagging a bit, maybe because of the lack of rain, entomologists say. It takes a couple of good rains to bring love-bug life cycles to the final stage: two flying black bugs with spots of red behind their heads, floating helplessly at windshield level.
Love bugs blanket us twice a year in West Central Florida. The spring season usually lasts for a month, in April and May.
That means by the time an interstate traveler goes from Myakka City to Micanopy, grills and windshields change from a shimmering and sparkling clean to a speckled black mess.
It's not by chance that love bugs are drawn to highways, it turns out. They are attracted to automobile exhaust fumes irradiated by the sun's light, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department's website.
The romantically inclined bugs that show up in August and September are actually the result of the couplings happening now.
Motorists long have known the smashed bugs on their cars can cause damage to paint if they are allowed to remain and bake under the hot Florida sun.
When they splatter into a car, love bugs leave behind an acid that hardens like glue in just minutes and is difficult to remove even with soap and water and a lot of muscle.
In a matter of just a couple of days, that acid can burn through to the white undercoat, leaving speckles and pock marks to scar a car's surface. If dense enough, the love bugs' squashed remains can block air flow to engine radiators and lead to overheated engines on long road trips.
Cleaning the guts off your grill can be difficult, and car detailing experts warn against using abrasive cleaners or Brillo-type scrubbers. Instead, soap — even fabric softener — and water and sponges are recommended. One detailer says wet dryer sheets work well.
The lives of the vexing bugs are short. They only live for about a week as adults. After mating and laying eggs, the pair dies.
When the eggs hatch, the larvae typically live out of sight and spend their days eating dead plants — maybe the critters' only environmental benefit.
Love bugs, known in scientific circles as Plecia nearctica , are native to Central America and inadvertently came to the United States as stowaways on a ship arriving in Texas around 1920. They moved east from there, making their way to Florida in the mid-1940s.
Cars weren't always the casualties of love bug season, according to University of Florida entomologists.
Adult love bugs appear to be attracted to light-colored surfaces, "especially if they are freshly painted," researchers said. "For several decades after the 1940s, the painting of exterior building surfaces was often suspended during the adult flights."
Ellis took a rest as the Mustang dripped in the bay of the carwash. He popped a soda to take a drink.
"After a wax," he said looking down at his gleaming grill, "it'll look like a new car."