Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Human Interest

Florida needs a new slogan, so how about 'Don't tase the lovebugs?'

Florida has a lot of symbols: a state animal (the panther), a state reptile (the alligator), even a state sand (Myakka fine) and a state pie (key lime, of course). I've got no complaints about those.

We've also got a familiar-sounding state slogan: "In God We Trust." It was adopted in 1868 after legislators copied it off the back of a silver dollar. Apparently there wasn't room on the state seal for the rest of it: "All Others Pay Cash."

I have long believed we could come up with a better slogan, one that is more distinctly Florida.

Just last month, a Plant City man looked out his window, dialed 911 and announced, "I live in a mobile home and I've got an alligator at my door!"

The minute I read that line, I thought, "Okay, that would make a great state slogan!"

The alligator showed up on the man's doorstep because it's spring, a time when male gators emerge from their winter hibernation and go looking for love in all the wrong places. They waddle into your driveway and bite your bumper, interrupt your golf game by wrestling on the green, crash your picnic and gobble up your burgers.



Those wandering gators make me think Florida should steal away Virginia's slogan, because really, Florida is for lovers.

I know you might think I'm kidding. Florida is better known for being a state full of strangers. So many of us just recently moved here. We often don't know our neighbors until we get into an argument with them over hedge-trimming and start pulling out machetes. The only bond many Floridians feel is for the place they left, not the place where they now live.

But just look at how often lovers make the news in Florida — although, admittedly, it's often in the police log.

There was that couple in The Villages caught in flagrante delicto in the middle of the town square. And the Jacksonville couple in a police standoff who refused to surrender until they had one last love connection. And the man in Casselberry who got naked to propose to his girlfriend, only to show up at the wrong house and get Tasered. ("Don't Tase me, bro!" a line first shouted by a University of Florida student in 2007, also would make a fine state slogan.)

This month, love is literally in the air in Florida as lovebugs begin their mating season. The little buggers pair up and flutter blissfully along our highways by the bajillions, oblivious to all the oncoming cars and trucks that are about to give them the ickiest interruptus imaginable. The bugs get their revenge, though, corroding your car's finish unless you wash them off quick.

Some people think lovebugs were created in a University of Florida lab, just like Gatorade. Actually they are a South American species that invaded our air space in 1949 and decided to stick around.

Many Floridians regard them as among the worst pests ever, but they are officially classified as harmless. They don't bite, sting, transmit diseases or exude a poison, which is pretty unusual for a Florida insect.

"You can even swallow them if you're on a motorcycle," said Norman Leppla, a University of Florida scientist who knows more about lovebugs than anyone else.

They do carry one human health hazard. I know several parents who have twisted themselves into knots trying to explain to their kids what the two bugs were doing in midair. ("Well, honey, he's uh, er, um, giving a friend a piggyback ride!")

Leppla thinks we've got the lovebugs all wrong. "If they were bigger, you could see the males and you could see their eyes," he told me. "They're as cute as can be."

If they didn't swarm over roads so much, he said, people might see them in a different light.

"Lovebugs sail from flower to flower much like butterflies and in smaller numbers could be perceived as beautiful," he once wrote.

Yes, he called them "beautiful."

They're not that different from a lot of us Floridians. They came from elsewhere but made a home here. They find themselves on the road for a far larger percentage of their lives than they would probably prefer. Their huge numbers and tendency to swarm can give people the wrong impression.

Meanwhile, they're doing their best to connect to someone else here, however fleeting that connection may be. That's more than I can say for some of us.

Leppla, by the way, does not defend all Florida insects.

"You want ugly," he told me, "how about a great big ugly palmetto bug?"

Maybe that should be our state slogan.

Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

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