Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ladybug Ladybug

Though I have not seen as many as I have in previous years, it seems everyone is noticing them this year. We had a huge infestation when I lived in Mass, our sliding glass doors and entire side of the building was covered with them...


Around this time every year people start reporting swarms of ladybugs around -- and oftentimes inside -- their homes. The reason is simple: It's getting cold out there.

The tiny red spotted beetles are usually viewed as the good guys of the insect world. They're right up there with praying mantids and butterflies. Usually, we don't mind when they get into the house. We're not only likely to pick them up, but we'll even hand them to our small children. "Oh, look how pretty it is." Imagine doing that with a spider? Plus, these flying wonders do a number on aphids, saving countless plants from the pests' piercing-sucking mouthparts.

But what happens when they swarm inside your house? I don't mean two or three, which most people would pick up and escort outdoors. I mean a swarm. A literal infestation.

I've only experienced such a thing once, when visitng friends in northern New Jersey a few years ago. I had never seen anything similar to the scene inside that house when we arrived. There were not hundreds, not even thousands, but perhaps tens of thousands of ladybugs on everything.

Ladybugs covered the ceiling, the walls, the couch. And the lady of the house was frantically following them around with a vacuum cleaner. While I felt bad for my little friends, I knew she was doing the right thing. There simply would not have been any other way to rid the house of them safely and effectively.

Why did this happen? Turns out, it's not that much of a rarity. Two-spotted lady beetles, as well as Asian lady beetles, spend their winters hibernating in large groups, usually under leaves. But sometimes they try to find refuge from the cold inside houses.

They seem to be lured to light-colored houses, and certainly those without adequate caulking around windows and doors. And the problem is once they come in, they release phehormones, which in turn lures more ladybugs to the area. The scent is believed to travel as far as 1/4 mile. If you don't get rid of them fast, their friends will keep coming -- and calling for reinforcements. Of course, if you only have a few, say 3 or 5, there's no need to worry. Let them be. But if you walk into a room and can't quite see the lighting fixture on the ceiling, you have a problem.

Should you ever find yourself in such a situation, do as my friend did -- get out the vacuum. And after you've sucked them all up, dispose of the bag. Outside. In the trash. If you leave the bag in the vacuum cleaner, those little ladybugs will become frightened and release blood, which is what they do when they're scared. That smelly yellow smudge you sometimes find on your hand after holding a ladybug actually is a blood release, something it does to convince you not to eat it. If it smells bad, it must not be meant for eating, or so it hopes to convice its predators. You'd notice the same foul odor if you should crush a ladybug, so don't get any ideas.


Laura said...

I keep hearing everyone talk of ladybug infestations as of late. I'm in New Brunswick Canada and haven't seen a single one. However, I would gladly trade all the nasty spiders that seemed to be glued to my siding for an infestation of lady bugs anyday, lol. Take care!