February 4, 2013

Season brings some unwelcome houseguests


---- — One of the good things about winter is that we don’t have insects bothering us. It’s too cold for most of the insects that hover, bite, buzz, annoy or — in some fashion — bug us during the rest of the year. 

Have you wondered where they go? I know it seems like “first you see them, then you don’t,” but it’s a gradual process that occurs as the temperatures get colder and the days get shorter. Different insects have developed different ways to cope. 

Some insects migrate. The most well-known migrator is the monarch butterfly.

The monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains leave when the days get shorter and the temperatures drop and head south to central Mexico. Those monarchs west of the Rockies head for California.

Some insects spend the winter as larvae in leaf litter or other shelter, nymphs in water under the ice or as pupae attached to a food plant. Some insects overwinter as adults. They may be sheltering in tree holes, under the soil, in or under fallen logs, in your firewood or in your house or garage. Yes, you read that right: You may have insects spending the winter in your home.

Several of you have recently called the office about these unwelcome houseguests. The culprits you are most likely to find inside are Asian ladybird beetles, commonly known as ladybugs, and box-elder bugs.

Both of these insects congregate in large numbers during the fall on warm structures like walls or patios as they attempt to locate a suitable place to spend the winter. If yours was one of the lucky homes they chose, they may have gone under the siding of your house, in your garage or in your woodpile. As temperatures warm, as when you turn the heat on or the sun hits the window, they may become active. 

The good news is that these insects are not harmful to you, your pets, food, furnishings or health. Don’t feel embarrassed if you find them. They have nothing to do with your housekeeping skills. 

They can be a real nuisance and quite disconcerting when discovered unexpectedly.

One area resident, when headed to the bathroom, found a box-elder bug sitting between him and his intended destination. The box-elder bug is about a half-inch long and is brownish-black with red stripes on the body and wing margins. In large numbers, they can be quite alarming, as can the ladybird beetles. The best thing to do is to vacuum them up and empty the vacuum bag outside. They can also be gently swept up and taken outside or disposed of. 

If either of these insects is crushed, they can emit a foul-smelling yellow fluid that may stain fabrics and wall surfaces.

You will want to look for any opening that these insects are using to access the inside of your home and eliminate it with screening or caulk. In the meantime, remember that when spring returns and the weather warms, these insects will find their way out of your home. 

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or