PLATTSBURGH — An invasion of ladybugs?
As the weather gets colder, it may seem like it.
With their reddish hues and black spots, individual ladybugs are colorful and appealing. At the approach of winter, however, one species seeks refuge indoors — which can be disconcerting to homeowners.
“They can appear in large numbers,” explained Amy Ivy, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County.
There are several species of native ladybugs (also called lady beetles) in the North Country, along with one non-native species: the Asian multicolored ladybug, she said.
Ladybugs hibernate during the winter, and while the native species hibernate outdoors, burying themselves for protection, the Asian multicolored ladybug prefers to take its long, long nap in buildings.
“The story I’ve heard about the Asian multicoloreds is that they were released in the central U.S. to control aphids in pecans and that they have moved up here,” Ivy said.
“They seem particularly bad north of Plattsburgh, like in Chazy, where there are alfalfa and hay fields. Perhaps they are thriving on the pests in the fields.”
Ivy noted, however, that this was merely an observation.
“It’s not a total cause and effect because they do fly,” so they are not necessarily bound by a particular area of food supply.
Dorie Sweeny of Beekmantown visited her family camp on Chazy Lake in Dannemora recently to find the basement covered in ladybugs.
She swept them from the floor, counters and windowsills and even found a few upstairs in the sink and toaster. Neighbors in the area have also been vacuuming up ladybugs.
“This is a mystery to me,” Sweeney said.
Though temperatures haven’t reached freezing point yet at the camp, she said about 75 percent of the beetles were dead.
“My sister-in-law cleaned up the floor a week before with two dustpans full of ladybugs,” Sweeney said. “Usually, it happens over winter but this is ridiculous.”
After searching pictures of ladybugs online she found that some were an Asian species, though she doesn’t know how they got into the house.
“It’s just an inconvenience,” Sweeney said. “They’re good for gardens, but not for my basement.”
The family plans to go back after a freeze to get rid of any others.
OTHER INDOOR PESTS
The Asian multicolored ladybug is one of several species of insect that tries to get into buildings as winter approaches.
Cluster flies and paper wasps behave in a similar way.
“A more recent bug of note is the western conifer seed bug, which acts the same way. They’re newer to our area,” Ivy said.
Though the seed bug is not appearing in large numbers, the insects draw attention because of their size. They are ¾ inch long, considerably larger than ladybugs.
“They walk slowly, almost like a reptile,” Ivy observed. “These creatures, at this time of year, can drive people crazy as they’re trying to get in for the winter.”
In large numbers, ladybugs give off an odor, and if they are startled, they may leave an orange stain.
Sweeney noticed that, both the stink and the stain.
According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences’s website, some people report allergic reactions to that foul-smelling chemical.
And the ladybugs also bite, it says.
But it is important to remember that none of these creatures are harmful, and wasps and ladybugs are beneficial insects, Ivy said.
“Wasps are an important pollinator, so except when they’re stinging you, they’re beneficial.”
Ladybugs, of course, also serve a purpose because they eat aphids and other insect pests, both the larvae and adult forms.
“All the species do this, including the Asian multicolored ladybug.”
NOT LAYING EGGS
But how can you discourage them from moving in with you for the winter?
“Anything you do to stop drafts will also stop ladybugs.”
However, Ivy admitted, “they have a way of getting in that’s pretty amazing.”
In the spring, they re-emerge and seek the outdoors. As they all do so at once, it can seem like a big crowd, but they have not been breeding during the winter — just hibernating.
“It’s just that there may have been more there than you realized.”
Ivy hopes North Country residents will be reassured by the knowledge that they ladybugs are not breeding or laying eggs inside their houses.
“They’re just hunkering down in the winter.”
Learn more about the Asian multicolored ladybug and see photographs: http://tinyurl.com/kp3ucph See an image of the western conifer seed bug: http://tinyurl.com/mgtqma7