The Halloween bug?
Since their infestation usually occurs in late October, and some of them are more orange than red, I have occasionally heard them referred to as "Halloween Bugs".
A woman in Washington, D.C., prefers to call them "little monsters", as she discovered an estimated 40,000 Asian lady beetles in her house recently.
The author of this article from the Washington Post also links Asian lady beetles to Halloween:
The annual gathering of the ladybugs has begun, when they barge into the house like a horde of unwanted trick-or-treaters.
As if their home invasion habit wasn't enough of a nuisance, this news report out of New England quotes a doctor as saying some people can be allergic to these ladybugs, and that their presence can bring on "Itchy eyes, nose, nasal congestion, scratchy throat, coughing and in more severe cases wheezing and shortness of breath."
Just in time for Halloween... a sighting and capture of a "monster wasp" the size of a golf ball in the United Kingdom, sparking fears of a nearby nest.
When good ladybugs go bad
Trade shows keep our marketing department busy in September and October. (Which explains the light posting recently.) This year's shows had us pitching our insect traps to retailers in Las Vegas, Reno, Napa, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
It was at a fall trade show several years ago that some True Value dealers started asking me about a small orange beetle that showed up in their homes in large numbers during the fall months. We sell a Japanese Beetle Trap, and the dealers thought that perhaps that product would solve their problems with this home-invading insect of Asian origin. Desperation was evident on their faces as they described the noxious odor and yellowish fluid the beetles emitted. Most reported trying to vacuum up the beetles from the walls and ceilings where they congregated, but this tactic seemed to only make the problem worse.
Turns out that this insect pest is actually a ladybug... a sweet, innocent ladybug -- the most recognizable of all the beneficial insects. How did the good ladybug go bad and become a pest?
Actually, this bug is still technically a good bug, even though it's a nuisance to people when indoors. This particular species of ladybug is named Harmonia axyridis -- or, more commonly, the Asian lady beetle. Like others of its kind (ladybugs, that is), H. axyridis is valuable to gardeners and farmers because it eats aphids by the hundreds. It also devours other soft bodied insects that are pests of ornamental plants, vegetables and fruit trees.
As for appearance, the United States Department of Agriculture says that compared to other lady beetles, "H. axyridis has a wider range of colors and spot numbers... Wings range from black to mustard; spots number zero to many. The most common United States form is mustard to red with 16 or more black spots. But the species is easy to identify from its big false 'eyes' -- twin white football-shaped markings behind the head."
The USDA reports that when the Asian lady beetle first came on the scene, it was accidental. The bug was originally a stowaway that first became established from ancestors that entered by ships coming from Asia to the ports of New Orleans and Seattle. In the 1970s and 1980s, USDA entomologists released large numbers of Asian lady beetles in the South, East and Northwest to research their effect on crops -- one of which was pecans. According to one of the scientists involved in the study, the beetle "nearly eliminated pecan aphids" where it was present.
Okay, so it eats aphids and other insect pests, and that's all good. But its presence near homes has been a mixed blessing. According to a researcher at Colorado State University, the Asian lady beetle has now acquired a bad reputation stemming from its autumn habit of invading houses and buildings in search of overwintering sites.
The CSU article continues: "Their ability to reflex bleed, leaving stains on walls, curtains, etc., distinctive odor, and habit of becoming active on warm days has led to their additional designation as an insect pest."
I definitely can't blame the people who have labeled these ladybugs as pests. Beetle juice, beetle stains, and beetle stink in my house would not give me any warm and fuzzy feelings towards them. Some individuals have even reported that they bite people.
Personally, I'd have to look at Asian lady beetles the way I look at bats. Yes, I understand they are beneficial because they eat bad bugs. And they don't mean any harm to people. But if they invade my house, they are a nuisance and I want them dead.
A late season series of stings
Normally at this time of year, any news stories that mention yellowjackets are about school football or soccer teams. So it's quite late -- especially in the Northwest -- to hear about a swarm of yellowjackets attacking a group of students. But that's exactly what happened at Liberty High School near Renton, Washington, which is just outside of Seattle.
A group of students was posing for senior pictures outside when a yellowjacket nest was disturbed. Some were stung, but there were no serious reactions.
Yellowjackets still make news
As several areas in the U.S. experience an Indian Summer, yellowjackets are still a newsworthy item. The longer the warm weather lasts, the more aggressive they become. Here's a roundup of some recent stories:
Pontiac, Michigan: Yellowjackets abuzz this time of year
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Yellowjackets are a burr in the saddle
Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Yellowjackets are unwelcome fall visitors
Truckee, California: Return of the yellowjackets (This one contains some inaccuracies. The Polistes wasps with the small, uncovered honeycomb nests are actually paper wasps, not yellowjackets. And the author states that yellowjackets do not pursue people, only food, but actually they will bite and sting just because they feel like it. I know from personal experience!)
Portland, Oregon: Yellowjackets are painful, plentiful west of Cascades
Sandy, Oregon: Yellowjackets sting 20 at elementary school
Be careful out there, and keep your yellowjacket trap baited!