the mixed blessing of the asian lady beetle

lady beetlesIS THAT A LEAK I HEAR COMING FROM THE UPSTAIRS BATHROOM? Oh, right, no; if it’s October, it’s just the annual shower of Asian lady beetles dropping, one by one, off the screen or the outer window onto the sill–drip, drip, drip (above). On warm late-winter days around February, the sunniest windows inside the house are abuzz with them again, and the sound is more clickety-clack against the panes as they take off and land again, and again.

These non-native “ladybugs,” introduced by the Department of Agriculture to help combat certain agricultural pests, have made themselves right at home in America—and in my house, too. In fall, the south-facing side of the exterior can be teeming with patches of them, as they look for places to tuck into and overwinter.

The USDA imported lady beetles from Japan as early as 1916 as a beneficial insect, to gobble up unwanted pests on forest and orchard trees, but it was probably later releases, in the late 1970s and early 80s in the Southeast, that took hold. Today, multicolored Asian lady beetles have made themselves completely at home around the United States, easily adapting to regions as diverse as Louisiana, Oregon, and mine in New York State.

As much as I like members of the food chain who devour aphids and soft-bodied scale insects and the like, I am not crazy about Asian lady beetles, at least this time of year, who, looking for the equivalent of the cliffside habitats of their native landscape to tuck into and overwinter, go for houses instead.  It would all be fine, if a little sci-fi, except that they stain things and also emit a bad-smelling compound in self defense (such as when you try to scoop them up and toss them back out the door). Sometimes I have hundreds inside at a time (hello, dust-buster).

I can say with first-person authority that they taste really bad, inclined as they are to jump into the bedside water glass or any other food and drink left unattended and then eaten or drunk from without examining it carefully first. Ugh.

I’m not the only one upset. Apparently native ladybugs have been sulking, too—or is that just a coincidence that their populations seem to have dipped drastically in the last 20 years? The Lost Ladybug Project, a program with funding from the National Science Foundation and conducted by Cornell University, is trying to track the status of native species, and asks for “citizen scientists” (meaning us, and even kids) to help observe and photograph whatever lady beetles of any kind they see, particularly each summer.

Get a pdf ID guide to tell the different species apart, and also see the variations within the Asian species.

But how to stop the annoying swarming of these alien invaders? Drugs, perhaps. Recently, there’s evidence that the compounds in catnip oil help. It’s not ready for prime-time yet, but you might want to talk to your family feline about sharing his or her stash of the good stuff.

  1. Jennifer says:

    Hi Margaret,
    A shout-out from your old editorial assistant from MSL days. I’ve been enjoying your adventures from afar. We’ve recently relocated to Seattle from Maine, and I am looking forward to some great gardening here. Visits to a few nurseries have me drooling…-J

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jennifer. I guess you like those Maritime climates! My favorite nursery out that way is Wells-Medina; I have gotten into substantial trouble there on a visit or two. Of course thee are MANY others; I am jealous! Nice to hear from you and don’t be a stranger. Congratulations on your new home.

  2. Doug says:

    The usual fall infestation pattern for us:
    1. Cold snap
    2. Leaves begin falling
    3. The next warm sunny day: here they come!!!!!
    The don’t usually swarm on overcast days.

    I am considering cutting down ALL the hackberry trees on my 10 acres. It appears they hold most of these beetles as they feed on the aphids on them (the aphids are a problem in that they drop “honeydew”, which then gets covered in mold). Anything around these trees will get covered in sticky black mold.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Doug. Yes, it sounds oh-so-familiar. Ugh. There are a few crawling around on the laptop at the moment, and tons in the upstairs sunniest windows. I suspect they’d find another tree to enjoy even if you cut down one species, but who knows? Hope to see you soon again.

  3. My kids totally lose their mind when I attempt to rid my home of these ladybugs which are indeed everywhere this time of year.

    “Mom you can’t kill nature”, is their mantra. Hard to argue with that but these pesky creatures still really “bug” me.

    Nice to see I’m not alone with that sentiment-lol.

    Enjoy your Sunday.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the nursery tip. My nursery explorings are somewhat limited thanks to the schedule and opinions of two little kids. They enjoy Swanson’s because of the enormous koi, but we will make it a point to visit Wells-Medina soon.

  5. chigal says:

    I wish I had a ladybug infestation. Aphids rode in on the herbs I overwinter indoors, despite a good wash and careful inspection. They killed a few plants before I noticed (since when do they like thyme and oregano?!?), and now I’m washing them off the basil cuttings every few days. They’re diminishing, but it’s been a long battle. Almost gave up on all the kitchen plants, at one point.

  6. Mary Gardiner says:

    Hi, My name is Mary Gardiner I an an Assistant Professor at OSU and I study lady beetles. I was wondering if we could use you photo of the multicolored LB crawing on your window in an outreach bulletin illustrating the negative impacts of this insect? If so could you send me an origional of the image and let us know who to credit the photo to? This bulletin will be used for educational purposes and no profit will be made. Thanks! Mary.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mary. I would be happy to share it in the name of education. I took the photo, and will send it along with all the particulars. If you would like some lady beetles as well, I am happy to oblige, I think there’s one or two swimming in my tea right now and several others in my hair. :)

  7. Frances Roth says:

    I’ve been vacuuming up these pests all afternoon. Now I hear them falling from the windows and the sides of the house. Ugh!

  8. Jeremy says:

    I was swarmed by them apon getting home from work today. Vacuumed them, then power washed the exterior of the house..My house is over 100 years old. Why do they call my house home?? How come they picked my house as their headquarters. No other house in my neighborhood has an issue with them. WHY MEEEE!!!

  9. Ilona says:

    I miss the old fashioned native ladybugs! The Asian types are like a plague here this time of year. They are everywhere. They will soon cuddle up under every nook and cranny to hide away for winter.

  10. Darlene Kimsey says:

    The only ways I have found to fight them and keep them out of the house:
    1. Seal up every nook they find to get inside
    2. Bug Stop spray that you can pick up at the hardware store or big box store. It’s non-staining, non-toxic and kills them when they crawl across it. No smell from the spray either. Spray outside windows and places where they are crawling in. I also spray my inside window sills. It’s safe to use with animals inside.
    I know people like to save nature and I’m for that too, but these beetles have been known to crawl into my light fixtures and short them out. A friend’s house burnt down (caused by an outside light) and the beetle were in it and all over the basement walls – leading us to believe they were the culprits.
    In my area, they are attracted to lighter colored houses and have the same flight path every year.
    Good luck to all of you!

  11. Marcia says:

    I had a real adventure with an Asian Lady Bug about 3 weeks ago. It had been real warm both outside and in the house. Somewhere I have an entrance for both the ALB and Box Elder bugs. I was not paying attention and took a big sip of my ice tea. There was something rolling around in my mouth. Could it be a lemon seed as I had just eaten some salmon and had squeezed a fresh lemon on it. Thought I had retrieved them all, but that’s all it could be. So I crunched it with my teeth—inside my mouth. Suddenly this horrible smell and taste came to me. I fished it out of my mouth and was horrified. Of course I could not stop vomiting. Everything came back up. I glance in my glass now.

  12. Fran Rasweiler says:

    Box box elders love my 250 year old house making me hire a company to rid me of them each year. I would give up eating rather than cancel this costly solution
    Fran R

  13. I detest these asian lady beetles. They smell and they leave orange streaks on the surfaces on which they crawl. The only way I’ve found to control them is to vacuum. We bought a small shop vac and I vacuum them a couple times a day from the window sills and all of the south windows. They lived throughout the winter this year which was frustrating. Usually they die out over winter. I won’t use pesticides so I have to just deal with them. If you have soybean fields around that is where they are mostly found and why they were imported to the USA. The do kill aphids but they are almost worse!

  14. Matt says:

    Wow, that is amazing. In all my years, I’ve never new it was this common of a problem. I actually have purchased them from local garden centers to battle other bugs like aphids in my vegetable garden. I guess I should be careful I dont run into a problem like an infestation.

    Margaret- I wrote to you a while back about some broken links in an article you have posted about lawn maintenance. I had mentioned that I had something to replace the broken with that I think your readers would really appreciate. I think I sent 2 messages with a month in between. I never got a response, maybe in went to spam. Please let me know if interested. Maybe they are no longer broken. I would have to find them again.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Matt. I think you probably mean the SafeLawn links….I wish there were another nonprofit like Paul Tukey’s former project with as much knowledge that I could link to but I have not found a good substitute.

  15. I. Sokol says:

    I wonder if that Bug Stop spray would be effective on stink bugs. The condo where I live spray every August/September for them on the outside grounds but it must take a long time to work. Last August was the third spraying and only this winter have I noticed a slight decline in the ones coming inside. I have sealed every nook and cranny and they still find a way to get in. At wits end, anyone have a solution please share.

  16. Tracy Chamberlin says:

    Ugh! I hate these things. Vacuuming doesn’t help. The only thing that seems to help are the ladybug traps from Gardenway. After putting new white siding on the house I learned that they are attracted to white. Great! Not going to change the color of my house. When I took down the walls to redo my dining room with shiplap these buggers were lining the inside of the walls at least 2 inches thick- top to bottom. Freaked me right out. I HATE ladybug season.

    1. margaret says:

      Funny, Tracy, I have a very dark colored house and they love it too…so don’t feel bad about your white paint! :)

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