This post originally appeared September 23, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (www.chiletodayhottamale.net)
I have visited 49 of the 50 states (Alaska has eluded me thus far), and several foreign countries. In the course of my travels I have experienced lots of fascinating events: an earthquake in San Francisco, a live volcano in Hawaii, etc. But one event that never fails to fascinate me occurred last weekend, in my home state of Georgia. It was the return of the lovebugs.
We were at the Shrimp and Grits Festival on Jekyll Island, and the lovebugs were everywhere. The proper name for this insect is Plecia nearctica (for those of you who survived 10th grade Biology: thank you, Ms. Atwater!), and as creatures go, it is a relatively recent discovery. According to the Wikipedia article I consulted, these bugs weren’t fully described until 1940, but sightings of the bugs were reported as early as 1911, in Louisiana. That’s not that long ago.
Where were they until then? Urban legend tells us that the lowly lovebug was created in a lab, the result of a University of Florida genetics experiment gone wrong. The legend has it that Gator scientists were manipulating the DNA of insects in order to create a species to help control mosquito populations, and the lovebug is the result. I do not disparage the fine biologists at the University of Florida, but I have great trouble believing that they were manipulating DNA some 40 or 50 years before we even knew the structure of DNA. Actually, lovebugs prior to 1911 were in Central America, migrating northwards.
I first encountered these creatures nearly 30 years ago, in Baton Rouge. I was driving from Baton Rouge to Zachary, and these bugs formed great clouds on the highway. My rented car’s grille looked like it had been involved in a massacre, which wasn’t far from the truth. The locals told me that if the squished bugs aren’t cleaned off the car fairly quickly, their remains turn acidic, and the car’s paint job is the victim. I was thinking of that last weekend.
“Why are we here?” is a question that theologians and philosophers have been answering for millennia. Modern theologians tell us we are here to do God’s will. Why are the lovebugs here? That is a much more difficult question to answer, as they appear to do little more than copulate, produce eggs, and die on the grilles of cars. Seriously. These guys live only three to four days on average, during which time they mate, fly together still joined at the, er, hip (see photo above), lay somewhere between 100 and 350 eggs and die. They appear to serve no other purpose than to propagate the species, and make automobile paint shops wealthy.
I will continue to ponder the question as to why lovebugs exist. There must be a reason. Could it be that they exist only to show us that it is possible to die happy?