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Tampa Bay mating season Q&A: What wildlife is hooking up?
Avert your eyes! It’s a special season for lovebugs, alligators, horseshoe crabs and more.
Is this love that I'm feeling?
Is this love that I'm feeling? [ Times photo illustration ]
Published May 14
Updated May 14

This time of year, you may mistake the humble communities of Tampa Bay for a key party in ancient Rome. The warm weather means critters are doing what they do best, which is making more critters.

Cue the Marvin Gaye soundtrack for this guide to animal mating in Florida. Bring these facts out at family dinner to test everyone’s knowledge and their tolerance for your attention-grabbing antics. Then, say something smug about the state’s fragile ecosystem. Finally, make up. Life, demonstrated by our frisky friends in nature, is too short.

Lovebugs

Are they hooking up?

Yes. Lovebugs multiply in droves in May and September. The male attaches to the female and rarely lets go (the jokes, they write themselves). The female dies a couple days after laying her eggs. Of course she does.

How will I know?

You will be outside, enjoying a cheeseburger or watching sports, when conjoined lovebugs will LAND ON YOUR ARM, with no regard for personal space. They will copulate as if you are a Holiday Inn. At this point, you will flail, and the lovebugs will hover to make good and sure you see them.

Tell me a fun fact.

Urban legend goes that lovebugs were created via botched 1950s experiment in a University of Florida laboratory. This is not true, but it might be a storyline in Season Five of The Americans.

Alligators

A alligator swims near a rookery in Port Richey in March 2021.
A alligator swims near a rookery in Port Richey in March 2021. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD ]

Are they hooking up?

Indeed! Alligators begin courting on dating apps in April (Loves: being outdoors. Hates: drama!! Favorite book: To Kill A Mockingbird). They mate in May and June, and females lay dozens of eggs, which hatch in August and September.

How will I know?

Alligators become more visible in hot girl summer, basking in the sun. They also get more aggressive. If you see one, walk away and secure your pets, unlike all the other times when you invite gators over for porch cocktails.

Related: During gator season, more houses means more encounters and more videos

Tell me a fun fact.

Alligators become sexually mature at 6 or 7 feet. So, it bears repeating, do not have a 7-foot gator over for Chex Mix and darts.

Horseshoe crabs

Horseshoe crabs are spawning.
Horseshoe crabs are spawning. [ Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission ]

Are they hooking up?

You betcha. They can mate year-round, but spring is when males really get their claws in. Literally, the male attaches to the female with special canoodling claws, like Inspector Gadget. She drags him around the beach while she spawns, egad, tens of thousands of eggs.

How will I know?

They come out during high tide and full moons. If you see a pair of linked crabs on the beach surrounded by other crabs, that’s because jealous males are trying to get in the mix. Best to mind your business! Or, you can help the state study them via the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch program.

Tell me a fun fact.

They’re not actually crabs but related to spiders and scorpions. And their blood can help test the sterility of medical equipment and needles. Honestly, if these facts don’t win hearts and minds at dinner, get a new family.

Cicadas

Brood X cicadas are emerging in 15 states.
Brood X cicadas are emerging in 15 states. [ GENE KRITSKY/MOUNT ST. JOSEPH UNIVERSITY | The Columbus Dispatch ]

Are they hooking up?

Affirmative, but not here. While Florida has 19 species of cicadas, the bug of the moment isn’t ours. Trillions of Brood X cicadas are emerging after 17 years underground, in 15 states to the north. They come out at dusk, climb off the ground and shed skins. The males start to sing, then it’s on. After the females lay eggs, the babies go back into the ground, the way you hide from neighbors in the grocery store.

How will I know?

Because you have read one of 600 think pieces about Brood X, shared by relatives in other states who are horrified and fascinated. You, Florida resident, have seen weirder stuff on a Tuesday.

Related: Trillions of lawnmower-loud cicadas emerging in 15 states north of Florida

Tell me a fun fact.

Bob Dylan wrote Day of the Locusts after getting an honorary degree from Princeton in 1970, flanked by cicada sounds: “Oh, the locusts sang off in the distance. Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singing for me.

You are thinking, “Bobby, locusts are an entirely different thing.” Maybe he was stuck on lubbers, those grasshoppers that love to mess with ornamental landscaping. Don’t worry, their eggs are hatching in Florida, too.

Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Associated Press and some weird websites about Ancient Rome.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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