(This column was first published in the October 22, 2001 Buffalo News.)
It has been only a year since I last wrote about lady beetles -- although they are not true bugs, you and I call them ladybugs -- but several good friends evidently missed that column and now insist that I write to tell them what to do about the multitudes of these tiny little insects descending on their homes.
Hundreds of these lady beetles are now wandering over the sunny sides of white or pastel-colored outside walls of houses. Unfortunately one friend was so awed by these strange little fliers that she didn't realize they were entering her open door by the dozens. Now, of course, she has a real problem, as do others whose homes are not well enough sealed to keep out these invaders. Visiting ladybugs make themselves comfortable and plan to stay until spring. I will address that problem later.
First, however, I want to speak up for these little beetles. They are predators on insects like aphids that severely damage garden plants and trees. They are so beneficial in fact that they are sold in quantities by garden stores. And the alien ladybugs you are seeing now are so good that they were brought to this country purposely. First imported from Japan in 1979, they are formally called multicolored Asian lady beetles. We have many native ladybug species but ours feed low to the ground. The newcomers were introduced because they patrol higher in trees.
Ladybugs are generally harmless to us. They don't sting; their bite is a tiny pinch; they don't carry diseases; they don't infest food, clothing or wood; they don't breed indoors.
They are also, appropriately, cute as a bug. These little quarter-inch to third-inch hemispheres with their bright orange, usually black-spotted wing covers are to me among the most attractive of insects. And their pumpkin coloration makes them just right for Halloween -- they look like miniature Jack-o-lanterns.
They are even quite tame. They gallop on those tiny legs across the back of your hand for a minute or two until they tire of foodless territory. At that point they stop, raise their wing covers -- elytra to entomologists -- to expose their active wings and buzz away. Carrying those extra clamshell-like elytra upright in flight certainly creates awkward aerodynamics and the ladybugs do fly slowly. However, the little beetles have been known to travel above treetops for many miles. Introduced in only a few states -- including Pennsylvania -- this new species has now spread over most of the lower 48 as well as nearby Canada.
Okay then, what's wrong with these ladybugs? Not a thing if you can keep them outside. But inside your home -- that's another matter. One or two might be acceptable but dozens crawling over walls, light fixtures and windows turn off most homeowners. Still worse, their droppings are messy and they have a nasty habit, when disturbed, of secreting a foul-smelling orange fluid that stains walls and rugs.
The best response is, of course, prevention. Identify and close off entryways especially around doors and windows as, like most beetles, ladybugs are drawn to light. This is not an easy job if you own an older home but it may also reduce your heating bills.
And if the ladybugs do get in, collect them with a vacuum cleaner. You can even release them outside if you gather them in a cloth placed in the cleaner intake hose.
Those recommendations apply as well to less attractive house invaders like elm-leaf and viburnum-leaf beetles.-- Gerry Rising
To read that earlier column click here.
Since writing this column I have come across on Iowa Insect Notes (q.v.) information about a rather expensive trap evidently designed to capture house-invading ladybugs that is available from H&T Alternative Controls, LLC, 606 Ball Street, Perry Georgia 31069 (phone: 912-988-9412; fax: 912-988-9413). I have no additional knowledge about this trap and cannot therefore endorse it, but some readers who have severe problems with these and other insects in their homes may wish to investigate it further.
If any reader does try out one of these traps, I would appreciate receiving feedback about your experience.