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Ladybug Invasion!

Or, a Huddle of Ladybugs is upon us

April 1,1999

The warm, sunny days have brought unexpected visitors to the Farmhouse - thousands of ladybugs! When I talked to Paul, our contractor, on the phone to see how things are progressing in the restoration, he sounded like a man under siege.

"Remember those cute little ladybugs we've been seeing from time to time this winter?" he asked.

I remembered that there had been a few little yellow and orange ladybugs on the window sills this winter in the kitchen. It was a little unusual - we hadn't recalled ever seeing ladybugs quite that color, nor in the wintertime. I had just figured that a few strays had gotten into the house from the garden and were living through the winter in the house. They were mainly in the kitchen, on one of the window sills, but we'd found them in most every other room. A few even made it back to New York in our bags and boxes of stuff we brought back after visits to the Farmhouse.

"Sure, there have been a few on the window sill in the kitchen, next to the desk" I replied. "Why do you ask?"

"The sun has brought them out - they're all over the big window in the kitchen - on the inside of the house!"

The population of a "few cute ladybugs" has exploded, and there are ladybugs all over the walls, the kitchen counters, the furniture, the bedrooms, in Paul's pockets and his hair. When he sits down to have a bite to eat, they are on the kitchen table, and when he tries to watch TV they are drawn to the light and cluster all over the screen. The crowning insult was when Paul went to butter his toast, and found that the butter and the dish it was sitting in were all completely covered with "cute little ladybugs!"

In desperation, he's been vacuuming them up, using his shop vac and a spliced-on hose from our smaller luggable vacuum. "I've probably gotten a thousand of them, or more, in the bottom of the shop vac - and they keep coming". He'll vacuum every ladybug in sight, and in thirty minutes the window is covered with them again. And then, once they are safely in the big shop vac, what do you do with them? It's too cool at night to turn them loose, and clearly we don't want to free them inside the house.

Thousands of Ladybugs have invaded the Farmhouse!

There is no sign of how they are getting in, but it must be through the window sill and cracks in the walls to this old house, unprepared for its new visitors. Now I've always been brought up that ladybugs were a special, beneficial insect, and not to ever harm one. The idea of vacuuming, or (heaven forbid) actually doing-in some of the little darlings, was contrary to everything I've ever been taught as a kid. So, being both emotionally and physically removed from the front lines of the ladybug invasion (at least for the moment), I figured I'd do some poking around about ladybugs and see if there was an easy and humane answer to the problem. However, before getting to the technical stuff I dug up, here is some of the folklore on ladybugs I ran across.

Ladybug Lore, Rhymes and Folk Tales

First, there is an old familiar children's nursery rhyme I remember:

    Ladybug, ladybug
    fly away home.
    Your house is on fire
    and your children will burn.

The older version of this rhyme, from England, goes like this:

    Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home.
    Your house is on fire and your children are gone.
    All but one, and her name is Ann,
    And she crept under the pudding pan.

Both versions of the rhyme have quite a bit of folklore associated with them. It is considered good luck if a Ladybug (sometimes you hear them referred to as ladycows or ladybirds) lands on someone's hand or clothing. It needs to fly away of its own will, and the ladybug rhyme must be recited. Although you can gently blow on the ladybug to get it fly away, you must not brush the bug off - that will mean bad luck for you.

There are several interpretations of this old rhyme - that the ladybug was named after Mary, the mother of Jesus ("Our Lady") and that she will punish anyone for nine days who dares harm it. Another story is that, in the Middle Ages, huge swarms of insects were eating up crops. The people prayed to Mary for help--and then ladybugs came and ate the pests. So they called the insect the "beetle of Our Lady." Another interpretation is that the ladybug rhyme is a cryptic reference to the fall of matriarchy and the rise of patriarchy, thus the reference to St. Ann who portends an eventual return to Goddess worship. Another interpretation is that this is a rhyme of resurrection and everlasting life, since the central figure is a beetle, one of the world's oldest symbols of the resurrection.

From the Lady Bug Gallery ("the most complete ladybug page of the net") come these tales about ladybugs:

    Children in many different countries sing this nursery rhyme. But no one knows for sure how or why the rhyme started. One idea is that the rhyme came from places where hops were grown. Ladybug larvae live on hop vines. But these vines were burned after the harvest. So singers warned the ladybug that her children would burn.

    More than 100 years ago, people in Europe thought that ladybugs could help them in many different ways. In Austria, people used to ask the ladybug for good weather. In Switzerland, people told their children that human babies were brought by ladybugs. People in northern Germany counted spots on the backs of ladybugs. Fewer than seven meant a big harvest. People in Central Europe believed that, if a girl caught a ladybug and it crawled across her hand, she would be married within a year.

The ladybug has different names in countries around the world: Flower Lady (China); Water Delivery-Man's Daughter (Iraq); Indra's Cowherd (India); Crop Picker (Africa); Good news (Iran); Lord God's Little Fatty (Switzerland); Vacchette della Madonna (Italy); Creatures of the Good God (France); Cows of the Virgin (France); and Mary's Beetles (Germany).

Ladybugs are even used in medicine. In the 1800s, English doctors used ladybugs to treat measles. They also believed that if you mashed ladybugs and put them into a cavity, the insects would stop a toothache!

The Technical Stuff

Since I don't have a toothache right now, and really don't want to visualize stuffing my mouth full of the little darlings (although Paul should check his buttered toast before he chomps down!), I wanted to find out about the critters, where they came from, and how to control our unwanted visitors.

Ladybugs are really a beetle, and belong to the beetle family Coccinellidae, which means "little sphere". There are 4,000 species found world-wide, and over 350 kinds found in North America. The ladybug has long been considered a gardener's friend, because of its prodigious appetite for plant-damaging aphids. One adult female ladybug can consume up to 75 aphids a day, and the smaller male may consume up to 40. The ladybug larva may eat up to 350 aphids during its life span.

Ladybug houses are available
as kits or ready-made.

Ladybugs are shipped around the world as a biological control agent for garden and tree pests. You can buy ladybugs by mail, and have them shipped to you as adults, in cotton bags mixed with wood shavings. A gallon of ladybugs (72,000 to 80,000 adults) will cost you about US$67.00, and you can release them in your garden in small bunches, preferably in the evening after watering the garden down. There are even ladybug houses you can build or buy, and ladybug food to sustain them while they are getting established in your garden.

I learned that the ladybug invasion we're experiencing is not from our native ladybugs, but from a Japanese import! Since native ladybugs were not as aggressive against pests as other varieties, the US Department of Agriculture released a multicolored Asian ladybug in the eastern US beginning in 1979 (Louisiana) and 1980 (Mississippi), and continuing until at least 1982 when there were some test releases from the Beltsville, Maryland Experiment Station. In our area, rumour is that there were releases through the University of Maine about three years ago, but spokesmen there are not aware of it. However, this species has been shipped by garden supply houses as a pest-free way to control garden bugs, and there may have been releases in our area. By 1994 it was found in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, as well as many locations throughout the Midwest and Northeast. From the response I've gotten from readers in Maine, the infestations of the Asian ladybug are fairly wide-spread.

Harmonia axyridis
The Multicolored Asian
Ladybug Beetle

This "Halloween lady beetle" is Harmonia axyridis and has been introduced from Japan for control of tree-inhabiting aphids. The adult ladybug is variable in appearance. Individuals can be any color from a pale yellow-orange to a deep orange-red, and have from none to more than 20 black spots. They are very prolific and may live up to three years.

Like all beetles, they have a complete metamorphosis with distinct egg, larval, pupal and adult stages. The adults spend the winter in protected hiding places such as logs, buildings, ground covering vegetation, where many hundreds of individuals may cluster together. With the onset of spring, the adults leave their winter homes and fly to fields and yards where mating takes place. The females deposit their eggs in clusters of 10 to 20 in a mass under the underside of leaves. The eggs hatch in three to five days, and the larvae feed on aphids and other food until they pupate in two to four weeks. The pupal period lasts about one week, when the adults emerge.

The Ladybug Life Cycle

Although this ladybug is an effective biological control agent, it is also a nuisance when they congregate in large numbers on homes and other buildings. For several days during autumn they typically cluster on sunny, southwest sides of light-colored rock outcroppings or structures.

Visitors to the Garden Web Forum from all over New England, up and down the east coast and out into the Midwest, have been complaining about the same "invasion" of ladybugs that Paul is experiencing at the Farmhouse. There must be nearly 150 comments from people under attack by ladybugs. Typical comments are: "There are hundreds of thousands of them on our siding", "Help! We are literally surrounded by ladybugs'", "'s like a plague!!!", "it is our personal plague", "...there are hundreds of ladybugs throughout the house, in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, windows, walls, ceiling, attic, closets, curtains, on the lights, TV, shower, clothing, refrigerator, your hair, inside your clothing...", "I kill everyone I can find - but they keep coming!". One comment even complained that they were too hard to peel, tasted bad, and were less desirable as food than crickets and ants (I don't recommend that control strategy).

Material from the University of Wisconsin and Purdue University both recommend sealing cracks around windows, doors, siding, utility pipes or other openings with a good quality caulk. Replace or repair damaged screens, and install screens over roof vents. Remove indoor concentrations of ladybugs with a vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool. They caution against killing the ladybugs with insecticides, harassing or squashing them. Even handling them will stress them and ladybugs will leave orange stains on walls and fabrics through reflex bleeding. and they stink when squashed. Ladybugs do not bite, sting, spread disease, infest food (tell that to Paul!), or damage clothing or wood. In other words, gently remove them (vacuuming is fine) and dump them outside where they can chomp on aphids (rather than your butter dish?).

If you tire of vacuuming up the little critters every day, there is a pheremone-based attractant to collect ladybugs inside the house for removal outdoors - "Eau de Ladybug" is available at Gardeners Supply Co in Burlington, VT (800-863-1700). This was developed for domestic convergent ladybeetles and, like other pheromones, is mist likely highly specific to them. In other words, it might not work on the Multicoloroed Asian Ladybug Beetle - but if you want to try something non-lethal, here is an option that might work. You lay out the stuff in a box, and the ladybugs (the theory is) will be attracted to the lure, will congregate in the box, and you can then transport them outside.

U-Spray, a company in Lilburn, Georgia, sells Cypermethrin which they recommend spraying on the sides of the house where the ladybugs are invading to keep them out of your house. The chemical should be sprayed on during the day when the ladybugs are out foraging, and before they return to seek shelter at night. Cypermethrin is a pyrethroid, or non-systemic insecticide which acts on the central and peripheral nervous system of ladybugs in very low doses. There are other treatments for well-established colonies in attics, under siding, and in root cellars. U-Spray cautions that the ladybugs will return, year after year, and their population will increase each year. Simply doing nothing will not solve your problem.

The University material, however, stresses that, populations vary with time. They normally expect four to five years of a population explosion, and then the population crashes. This could be caused by lack of food (not hardly, with aphids), or by some disease or parasite attacking the population. The researchers feel that eventually the population will stabilize. They predict that we will probably always have some small number of ladybugs attracted to our homes, but hopefully, we won't get the multitudes we've been seeing. However, that prediction that the population would crash was made nearly five years ago, and hasn't come true yet, if the reports of huge numbers of ladybugs is any indication.

So what are we going to do?

I heard somewhere that a large congregation of ladybugs was called a "Huddle" (like a "pride of lions" or a "murder of crows"), but I can't locate the reference. Maybe someone who was being invaded by these "little spheres" just came up with the term in frustration, as they were trying to butter their toast! In any event, all I can say is - where are all of our insect-eating bats when we need em!

This ladybug invasion certainly is a first for Paul and I. Learning that these are an introduced imported species and not our native ladybug helps explain the huge numbers we are seeing. Recommendations for removal make sense, and assuages my guilt a bit of harming any of these cute little bugs. I've gone ahead and ordered some "Eau de Ladybug" for the inside of the house, and some Cypermethrin to spray on the outside. We'll look for the cracks and crevices where they are getting inside the house, and do some serious calking. Mebbe that will take care of this year's invasion, and forestall future ones - we hope. We'd be curious if others out there have similar problems. Here are some references that you might find helpful:


Caplan, Larry. Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home...PLEASE!, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Indiana.
Fleming, Richard. Lady Beetles, Entomology Note No.6, Michigan Entomological Society, Michigan State University, East Lansing.
Lyon, William F. Lady Beetle, Ohio State University Extension Factsheet HYG-2002-98, Ohio State University, Columbus.
Mahr, Susan. Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, Midwest Biological Control News, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Photo credits:

Ladybugs Mating. Photo by Steve Hoffmann. Steve Hoffman's Nature and Scenic Photography
Ladybug House. Complements of the State of Massachusetts State House Gift Cart
Harmonia axyridis. Complements of the Midwest Biological Control News
Lady Bug Life Cycle. Complements of the Lady Bug Gallery

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated January 20, 2001