Ladybeetles are invading my space

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

They are still there this morning. I lean over the counter and count them. One, two, three, four, five Š 15, 16, 17 Š 26, 27, 28 of them are clustered along the edges of the kitchen window, and three more are on the ceiling near the light.

They aren't moving around much yet, but by mid day when the sun warms the glass, they will start motoring around like mini VW beetles.

My winter visitors arrived sometime in December and seem to have settled in for the season. We noticed them one day when my husband came home at lunch.

"Look at all those little bees flying over the pool," he said, looking out the window. "There must be hundreds of them."

"I don't think they are bees," I said. "They look like some kind of ladybug."

First they were outside grouped in bunches on my light-colored siding. Then I started seeing them inside, mostly around the edges of my garden window.

The idea of bugs in my house did not thrill me, but I knew ladybugs - and they do look like ladybugs only a different color from the ones I usually see - are some of the good guys in the garden. Not wanting to do damage to friendly insects, I went to the internet to see what I could find out about these little buggers.

It turns out they are ladybugs, well more correctly - ladybeetles. Their proper name is Harmonia axyridis and they came to the United States in the mid-1980s from Japan. They didn't slip into the country like illegal aliens. No, unlike fire ants, their introduction to our environment was intentional.

Since that time their numbers have grown steadily and they moved our way. The little critters are multi-colored but most commonly orange with black spots. They can also be black with four red spots at the corners. A few of my visitors are almost a solid color.

And they are "good bugs." It seems our native ladybugs are not particularly fond of tree-feeding aphids that munch on birch, tulip, maple or oak trees. By mid-summer these trees are usually dripping with aphid honeydew.

In the eastern U.S. the new ladybeetle is doing a good job controlling aphids in pecan orchards and is spreading up and down the east coast. Pecan farmers are reaping the benefits of this natural enemy of the pecan aphid, which explains why we invited them over.

Still they were bugs in my house and the thought of that, well, it bugged me. So I continued my internet reading and discovered more fun facts.

People other than myself have asked about controlling ladybeetles that get into their houses. According to the information I found, they will do no harm. They do have droppings that can be messy at first; however, my visitors haven't left me any of those treats that I've seen.

The ladybeetles will not reproduce indoors; they won't feed on anything. What's more, my trees will be forever grateful for their presence.

A vacuum cleaner is the only way to get rid of them because there are no insecticides approved for legal use against ladybeetles.

Everything I read assured me my winter residents will leave on their own in the spring if given the chance. I'm not clear on how they will get out of the house, but I trust they will find their way because I intend to give them the chance.

Besides it will take unbelievable contortions on my part to get a vacuum cleaner across the counter and into my window. Anyway they are cute and kind of entertaining motoring around on this cold morning.