October 20, 2016
After my experience a week ago Monday, that beautiful day when it got above 80OF, I told Patty I knew what I had to write about in my next column. I’d taken the day off to finish staining our house and enjoyed the weather, but not the pests that were out in full force that day. There was one thing worse than the ladybugs that were inflicting annoying bites. The worst thing happened first thing in the morning when I was on top of a 24 foot ladder, the wind blowing, and me trying to get the stain where I wanted it. As I stuck my brush between the louvered pieces of wood in an attic vent, a bat flew out in my face. But bats are a story for another day, back to the ladybugs.
The Multicolored Asian Ladybird Beetle, commonly referred to as a ladybug, start to congregate on the south and west sides of homes on warm days as temperatures drop in the fall. This odd trait goes back to Asia, the original home of this ladybug. It would migrate to overwinter in the cracks and crevices of cliffs in its native habitat. Since cliffs are few and far between in eastern Nebraska, the next best thing it can find are the vertical walls of buildings, your home and mine!
On the outside, the ladybug doesn’t really cause problems other than their annoying bites and large masses of the beetles will emit an odor. What makes it hard to remember they really are a beneficial insect, feeding on aphids, is when they look for sheltered places to overwinter and find their way indoors. Once inside, they do present several problems to the homeowner including:
• They secrete a foul-tasting chemical from their legs, which makes them unpalatable to their enemies. This secretion can stain fabric and wallpaper.
• Large infestations have a definite odor.
• They have been reported to be an asthma trigger in some sensitive individuals, and
• They will bite. It doesn’t swell up or itch like a mosquito bite, but it can be somewhere between annoying and painful.
• My wife reminds me of a couple other problems with them indoors including walking across the television screen in the evening when other lights are off and they are drawn to the light of the TV and landing in her cup of coffee when she isn’t looking. That wasn’t pretty when she took a swallow of crunchy coffee. We almost have the coffee stains out of the carpet!
The best method to control the ladybugs inside is to keep them outside. Locate entry points and use caulking to seal cracks and crevices. Use weather stripping to insure a tight seal around doors and windows, and make sure screens are in good repair. Besides keeping pests out, this should help on your heating bill. Spraying them with an insecticide where they congregate on the south and west sides of the home will have limited effects because others will migrate in, replacing the ones you might have killed.
Once beetles are inside, the following suggestions may be helpful:
• Do not swat or smash ladybugs. Their body fluids will stain draperies and wall coverings.
• Using insecticides inside the home will not prevent other beetles from coming inside and has limited effectiveness unless sprayed directly on beetles.
• Vacuuming lady beetles is as effective as insecticides and is the recommended strategy.
A tip when using a vacuum cleaner is, if large numbers of ladybugs are sucked into the interior part of the vacuum cleaner, their secretions will cause the vacuum cleaner to smell like ladybugs every time it is used. To prevent this, you can insert a knee-high nylon stocking into the hose wand to capture the beetles before they are sucked into the vacuum cleaner body. Insert the stocking into a connection joint in the wand so it forms a bag inside the hose and the top portion of the stocking folds over the outside of the wand to secure it in place when the wand is put back together. After sucking up the beetles, remove the stocking and dispose of the beetles.
As I mentioned earlier, Multicolored Asian Ladybird Beetles will bite. There is another small insect, the minute pirate bug, that causes painful bites which seem out of proportion to their size. The minute pirate bug is much smaller than a ladybug, about 1/8-inch long, oval to triangular in shape, flattened and black with whitish markings on the back.
Minute pirate bugs are found throughout the summer in fields, woodlands, gardens and landscapes. In the late summer, they begin the unpleasant behavior of biting humans. Control of minute pirate bugs is not practical. Repellents generally are not effective, although some people have found liberally applying baby oil or suntan oil to the skin may prevent some bites. For more information on ladybugs or minute pirate bugs, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.