~ Ladybug, ladybug,
fly away home,
Your house is on fire
and your children will burn. ~
I remember hearing somewhere that our Pennsylvania winters are good for killing off some of the insects that would normally survive, flourish and multiply next spring- like those Ladybugs! Turns out that ladybugs go into a dormant state in the fall, called ‘diapause’. These clever little creatures, sensing that winter is coming, gather into little ladybug groups and look for the warmest, most protected place to hideout in until spring. Many of them find their way into our homes and while they do seem harmless enough, they’ve been known to bite. Its not because they’re aggressive- they’re just seeking out moisture and their bite doesn’t seem to be harmful. They do however exude a yellow-orange body fluid when they sense danger, which is actually their ‘blood’. This defense mechanism is called ‘reflex bleeding’. It has a foul odor and can permanently stain walls and carpeting.
Whether or not they bed-down in our homes or outside in a shed or hollow log, the ladybug family slowly begins their ‘diapause’ state. This is where their oxygen levels go down and their muscles and reproductive organs atrophy (just what I needed to know!). They synthesize glycerol in their cells, which keeps them from freezing during this dormant stage of their life. Glycerol is what’s in the antifreeze we put in our cars. Pretty clever, aren’t they? The freezing point of glycerol is so low that their cells don’t freeze and in the spring they reconstruct them from stored fat. (Dr. James Lashomb, professor of entomology (study of insects), Rutgers University.)
There are over 450 species of ladybugs and they’re beneficial because they eat other bugs that we don’t want, such as aphids. That pesky species that plagues us in the fall and is beginning to ‘come alive’ now (the one that’s more orange/brown than red ), is the Asian Lady Beetle (Hippodamia covergins), imported into this area from the Orient, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s tens of thousands of these Asian lady beetles were intentionally released by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in an effort to control insect pests that injure trees. The Pecan industry has indeed benefited from this invasion, as the lady beetles have nearly eliminated the injurious pecan aphids. They also have made a favorable impact on fruit orchards, Christmas tree, ornamentals, small grains and many other agricultural crops as well. This program was eventually discontinued, because studies showed that the lady beetle was not surviving in the U.S.(Ohio State University). You could’ve fooled me!
While they can be a nuisance in our homes, you might be interested to know that they don’t carry disease, they don’t eat wood, or human food; they only eat aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
If you want to keep these little critters out of your home, here are some tips;
1. Seal all cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes and other openings.
2. Use weather stripping or silicone caulk for small cracks and foam, or fiberglass for larger openings.
3. Install tight-fitting door sweeps, or thresholds at all exterior entry doors.
4. Around garage doors, install a rubber seal rather than vinyl, which seals poorly in cold weather.
5. Install insect screening over attic and exhaust vents- replace damaged window screens.
In case a few do get in, the best way to deal with them is by vacuuming them into your shopvac. Insert a knee-high nylon stocking into the extension hose and secure it in place with a rubber band. As soon as the vacuum cleaner is turned off, remove the stocking so that they can’t escape. As you remove it, the rubber band closes around the stocking, which you can then discard.
Or…how about letting the Lady Bugs go back outside- to eat more aphids?
– Granny Earth, N.D.