In 2009, when I was on holiday in Walt Disney World in Florida with my friend, the two of us encountered possibly the most bizarre species of flying insect ever. Then someone told us that they’re not natural. They’re the result of a science experiment gone wrong…
During our two week holiday in Disney World, Orlando, it became very difficult for me and my friend to avoid these little red and black insects. They were everywhere. The air was so full of them it was difficult not to breathe them in. It also meant there were plenty of opportunities to study them up close. And remarkably, they appeared to have two heads, two sets of wings and twelve legs…
Actually, not quite. We soon learned that these two-headed bugs were actually two bugs constantly mating. Even as they fly, these insects remain in the throes of passion. Now I imagine a lot of sex is going to be had this week, since it’s Valentine’s Day this Saturday, but I doubt any of us have the stamina of these sex-mad little critters. Their amorous behaviour has earned them the name ‘lovebugs’, and sometimes ‘honeymoon flies’ and ‘kissing bugs’.
I remember asking about these bugs at one of the Disney water parks while we were on holiday. I mean, we think we have a bit of a wasp problem in the UK. That’s nothing compared to the lovebug problem they have in Florida. I just thought, where the hell did they all come from? A staff member told us that they were a biological experiment that went wrong, that they were accidentally released from the lab where they were created, multiplying at an inordinate rate.
Having looked into this in more depth, the rumour goes that lovebugs were some kind of genetic cross between a mosquito and a fly. They were bio-engineered at the University of Florida to deal with a rising mosquito problem. The plan was to create female insects to mate with male mosquitoes but be sterile and produce no offspring, in order to quell the numbers of mosquitoes.
However, scientists accidentally created a male lovebug as well and a pair of them escaped into the wild, multiplying exponentially thanks to the lack of any natural predators.
I did some further research. Typically, it seems that this is nothing more than an urban myth. Apparently lovebugs are native to Central America, migrated to Florida in the 1940s and decided to stay. The fact that there are so many of them is simply because they are prolific reproducers (females lay up to 350 eggs) and spend a large proportion of their existence banging each other.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Next week: Did time travellers touch down in Rendlesham Forest in 1980?