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Today while discussing cleaning cars with a co-worker, he mentioned how much he hated driving in Florida because of "Love Bugs" and stated that the "University of Florida researchers genetically engineered lovebugs."

Yes, it is a common claim, and one that I also often heard while I lived there. But is it true?

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    Hmm....interesting. – Monkey Tuesday Oct 12 '11 at 22:31
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    The Love Bug was made in a German factory, and then imported to the USA on behalf of Disney corporation in 1968. Oh, wait, you mean this insect? I had never heard of it. – Oddthinking Oct 13 '11 at 2:03
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    @Oddthinking saw your edit, he did not state that their purpose was to kill/eat mosquitos (as a matter of fact, in his version of the urban legend, he thought they were a hybrid OF mosquitos!). And if you ever get to the southeastern US, you will curse them if you drive your car there. – Larian LeQuella Oct 13 '11 at 2:07
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    @oddthinking my mistake! I must be getting senile in my old age. – Larian LeQuella Oct 13 '11 at 10:33
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    @Fake Name I know. It was hard to find any references that didn't... I only used the link to show "notoriety". I mention that in the answer section. – Larian LeQuella Oct 13 '11 at 10:33
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I am going to answer my own question here, because I want to preserve the links for my co-worker. He will get a facebook mention and everything.

Snopes has this to say:

False

Love bugs are not the result of a genetic cloning experiment gone wrong, nor were they unwittingly loosed from a research facility charged with studying exotic insects. They also weren't bio-engineered as a natural solution to the mosquito problem. (Love bugs do not eat mosquitos: the adults do not eat at all, and larvae feed on decaying plant material.) These overly amorous critters are native to Central America; the best guess as to how they came to these United States places them as undiscovered stowaways who arrived by ship in Galveston or New Orleans around 1920. They migrated into Florida in 1947 from Louisiana, looked around, liked what they saw, and decided to stay. Their natural capacity for reproduction took care of the rest.

The page I cited for the notoriety of this claim also has a whole section dedicated to Common Misconceptions. Specifically quoting the two that my co-worker repeated, but the page has a few more:

Lovebugs escaped after University of Florida researchers brought them into Florida.

Lovebugs are not native to most of the southern United States. According to one study, since 1940 the lovebug has extended its range from Louisiana and Mississippi across the Gulf States, reaching Florida in 1949. In the late 1960s, it became established entirely across north Florida. During the 1970s explosive populations occurred progressively southward nearly to the end of peninsular Florida and northward into South Carolina

University of Florida researchers genetically engineered lovebugs to kill mosquitoes.

Lovebugs are small, slow herbivorous insects that feed on the pollen and nectar found in flowers. Thus, they lack the mandibles (jaws), grasping legs, speed and other characteristics of predaceous insects, such as dragonflies. Lovebugs are active during the day, whereas most mosquitoes are crepuscular (active at twilight) or nocturnal, and they are only adults for a few weeks each year. For these and many other reasons, the lovebug would be a poor candidate to genetically engineer as a mosquito predator, even if it were possible.

If you can trust the University of Florida itself to report honestly on this (Many think it was Florida State that started the rumor anyway), they also give a history like the news paper and Snopes.

Lovebugs escaped after University of Florida researchers brought them into Florida.

Lovebugs are not native to most of the southern United States (Hardy 1945). According to Buschman (1976), since 1940 P. nearctica has extended its range from Louisiana and Mississippi across the Gulf States, reaching Florida in 1949. In the late 1960s, it became established entirely across north Florida. During the 1970s explosive populations occurred progressively southward nearly to the end of peninsular Florida and northward into South Carolina (Figure 4). Its movement may have been accelerated by prevailing winds, vehicle traffic, sod transport, increased habitat along highways and expansion of pastures but not by UF researchers.

University of Florida researchers genetically engineered lovebugs to kill mosquitoes.

Lovebugs are small, slow herbivorous insects that feed on the pollen and nectar found in flowers. Thus, they lack the mandibles (jaws), grasping legs, speed and other characteristics of predaceous insects, such as dragonflies. Lovebugs are active during the day, whereas most mosquitoes are crepuscular (active at twilight) or nocturnal, and they are only adults for a few weeks each year. For these and many other reasons, the lovebug would be a poor candidate to genetically engineer as a mosquito predator, even if it were possible.

Okay, a football rival of UFL, Auburn University repeats the same information in this newsletter (PDF). So if enemies like Auburn won't blame UFL, then it may have truth to the fact that lovebugs are just a nuisance that migrated up.

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    I bet it was auburn that released them to annoy the Gator fans... guess what it worked :) – Chad Oct 13 '11 at 14:51
  • Actually, they migrated down, as your own posts indicate, from Louisiana and Mississippi, finally migrating down to Florida. ;) – user13701 May 5 '13 at 18:12

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