They don’t bite, carry diseases or destroy plants, but lovebugs (Plecia nearctica) are nuisance insects. These creatures, along with gnats, mosquitoes, midges and black flies, are often enough to force you indoors, unable to enjoy your yard or garden. Some flying insects stay away with the help of commercial or natural repellents, but there are no effective insecticides or repellents against lovebugs. Preventative and protective measures will help you avoid most flying insect pests, including lovebugs.
Lotion and spray-on insect repellents, applied directly to your clothing or skin may help fend off flying insects. Repellents containing a 30 percent concentration of DEET, a chemical that blocks insects’ smell receptors, keep mosquitoes, black flies, gnats and midges away for up to eight hours. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers DEET safe for children and adults, when used correctly, and does not pose any known health or environmental risks. Repellents containing picaridin and IR3535 are relatively new to the market. Picaridin protects for up to eight hours without the toxic and allergenic effects of DEET. While tests show that IR3535 is not as long-lasting as DEET, it is relatively non-toxic and provides up to six hours of protection.
Clip-on repellent fans contain a replaceable cartridge with an odorless neurotoxin called metofluthrin. Metofluthrin-infused strips are also available for outdoor areas, such as patios and decks. Both products repel mosquitoes, but could expose users to unforeseen health risks, such as nervous system disorders, with prolonged inhalation. Burning repellent coils releases allethrin, which is a fly and mosquito repellent chemical. Coils are effective only where there is little air movement and, like metofluthrin, can pose health risks, including skin irritation, nausea, vomiting and neurological effects, with prolonged exposure.
Botanically-derived oils are somewhat effective at repelling flying insects. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is as effective as DEET at repelling mosquitoes, midges, gnats and black flies, but over a shorter time. Lotions, sprays or candles containing oil of peppermint, catnip oil, citronella oil, neem oil and other botanical oils are only mildly effective against flying insects for short periods. While considered less toxic, botanical or essential oils in high concentrations can cause skin irritation, such as redness or even a rash. The plants from which these oils are derived are often marketed as insect-repellent plants for your garden. According to University of Iowa entomologist, Donald Lewis, plants sitting in pots do not repel insects. You need to crush the leaves to release the repellent properties.
Avoiding lovebugs and other flying insects is possible without the need for potentially toxic lotions and fumes. If lovebugs are particularly abundant in your area, limit your outdoor activities to early or late in the day, as these pests are only active in daylight. Using a fan outside and wearing dark clothing also helps keep lovebugs away. Avoid flying insect pests that bite or sting by wearing a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and avoiding strong scented lotions and soaps. Clean up standing water and plant debris around the yard to eliminate pest breeding habitats.
If you use repellents directly on the skin, whether they are naturally derived or not, do not apply them over cuts, rashes or sunburns. To apply repellent to your face, spray it into your hand first then wipe it on to your face. Do not apply repellents to children’s hands as they can rub the treatment into their eyes or mouths. Only use chemical fans, coils, sprays and candles outdoors to avoid inhaling toxins. Always follow the manufacturer’s safety and first-aid directions when using insect repellents.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Living with Lovebugs
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute: How DEET Swats Insects’ Sense of Smell
- University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Insect repellents
- DEET: Picking the Right Product for Your Activity
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: DEET
- Cornell University Cooperative Extension: Pesticide Information Profile -- Allethrin
- Malaria Journal: Plant-Based Insect Repellents: A Review of Their Efficacy, Development and Testing
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Horticulture and Home Pest News