Video of the Week: The "Halloween Bug"
This week's video concerns Asian ladybugs -- the species Harmonia axyridis. These ladybugs are a headache for homeowners because they like to spend the winter indoors in large clusters, and emit a foul stench if they are disturbed. Since their infestation usually occurs in late October, and some of them are more orange than red, they are sometimes referred to as "Halloween Bugs".
Here's a recent article about Asian ladybugs from an Illinois newspaper, and here's a link to some archived blog entries about Asian ladybugs.
And here's a video of a news report from last year's ladybug invasion in Lawrence, Kansas:
Three times a lady
Here's more about Asian lady beetles in North Carolina. The article recommends attaching a pair of pantyhose to your vacuum hose to collect them and keeping them cool outside until spring if you desire to release them into your yard and actually benefit from their presence.
This article finds more people reporting allergy symptoms as a result of ladybug infestations in their homes.
Ladybugs invade North Carolina
Two news stories out of North Carolina are chiming in with reports of Asian ladybug infestations.
Boone, NC, The Mountain Times: Invasion of the ladybugs
Asheville, NC, Citizen-Times: Fall brings Asian lady beetles seeking home for the winter
Both articles advocate the precaution of sealing possible entry points into the house. Once inside, however, the only recourse seems to be vacuuming them up, and disposing of the vacuum bag as quickly as possible. Bug-bombing or spraying is not recommended.
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."
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.