BLANE KLEMEK COLUMN: Living with the ladybugs in Minnesota
On a recent October three-day weekend at my Kittson County hunting camp, I was overwhelmed by my good fortune. The grouse hunting was very good, work was getting accomplished, and the weather was the nicest I've ever remembered—bluebird sky and warm and dry. I was in heaven.
Or so I thought.
After spending most of one afternoon doing various tasks such as trail clearing, brush cutting, and moving and repairing a few deer stands, it was time to return to Camp, grab a quick bite to eat, and change my clothes for an evening grouse or deer hunt. Yet when I arrived back at Camp and began walking toward my small camper, I was shocked to see the little 14-x-8 vintage 1970 Aristocrat Lo-Liner camper completely covered with hundreds upon hundreds of detestable little orange, black-spotted and smelly lady bugs!
It was a horrendous sight, for I knew if that many could congregate on the outside of my camper all at once, then how many of the ghastly things were inside! To tell you the truth, I was afraid to open the door.
Ladybugs, or ladybird beetles or lady beetles as they are also called, are not bugs at all. In fact, they're beetles (bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts, beetles do not). Lady beetles belong to the large order Coleoptera and are members of the family Coccinellidae. And believe it or not, the species of lady beetle that's showing up as, perhaps, unwanted guests in your house or other building (or camper!) are not even native to this country.
Multicolored Asian lady beetles, as their name suggests, are originally from Russia, Korea, China, Japan, and other places in the Orient. They found their way to this continent by accident and through intentional releases.
Lady beetles are well known as combatants of certain insect pests such as aphids and scale insects. So, whether native or non-native, lady beetles are thought of as friends of humankind.
Indeed, lady beetles, even when they do find their way into our homes, are not harmful in any way. Save for just seeing them crawling on our walls and ceilings, the beetles do not typically bite, do not feed on anything in the household, won't infest food and won't damage furnishings.
Some people report that lady beetles will bite. The fact is, the beetles are not acting aggressively; rather they are merely examining something unfamiliar to them or seeking moisture. Think of this behavior as something akin to a child putting something inside their mouths in order to "identify" it.
The multicolored lady beetle is the only species, of which there are many, many different kinds throughout the world, that have the unusual overwintering behavior that we are observing right now. Most other lady beetles seek shelter individually, but the Asian variety enjoys the company of thousands of its own kind.
In late fall, Asian lady beetles congregate in countless numbers as they search for suitable sites.
Light-colored houses and other buildings, preferably homes that are well lit by the sun, are targeted by their moving masses.
What the lady beetles are trying to find are ways to get inside buildings. Cracks, crevices, under window panes, door jams... any place that they can squeeze into that's out of the elements and is safe and warm.
Once there, and as soon as cold weather sets in, the beetles remain dormant for several months, not feeding or moving much at all. Once temperatures rise again, come springtime, the beetles become active and they either find their way outdoors from where they came from, or wind up inside your house, where you don't necessarily want them. And to some people, that's the overriding problem: what to do with the little buggers, whether they're inside or outside one's home.
I'm not a champion of chemicals, though spraying insecticides is an effective means to kill unwanted beetles. Inexpensive chemical products, for example, can be purchased and sprayed onto foundations, siding, window frames, and more—anywhere that lady beetles might enter a dwelling—that not only kill beetles already there, but serve as a barrier to others trying to enter. Other measures are sticky tape, such as fly paper or even strips of exceptionally adhesive tape, like duct tape or carpet tape. Still, another mechanical means of removal involves a very common household tool: the vacuum cleaner. Sucking up the beetles and then properly disposing the vacuum's contents works, too, albeit only temporary.
Nuisances aside, multicolored Asian lady beetles are largely viewed as beneficial to humankind. As already mentioned, lady beetles—all species—feed on aphids and scale insects, which in turn are damaging to orchard trees and other agricultural, garden and forest plants. Lady beetles help to naturally control these insects, thus reducing the need for pesticides to combat undesirable pests.
For now, the introduced and non-native Asian lady beetle is very abundant and a cause of concern for some people. Yet for most of us, the colossal annual congregation is an awesome spectacle worth observing. Even so, their numbers will cause no real harm. In time, the population may decrease in size as natural predators, parasites and diseases find a way to control this non-native lady beetle. But, they are definitely here to stay.
Knowing that lady beetles are here for good doesn't make them necessarily anymore endearing, if at all. And yet one has to be at least a little awestruck that such a little creature as capable as they are in creating such a stir among we bipeds, are as apt a survivor as they come as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.