Temperatures have been well below freezing for over a week now, and in these parts it’s dipped below zero with double-digit negative wind chills. The springfed well that went dry in late summer, prompting the owner of the property to drill a new well, has caught up with itself, the pristine water rising to the surface to saturate the driveway. It continuously runs down to the road and freezes, layering itself, creating a sheet of ice inches thick. The best I can do when leaving in the car is aim in the desired direction and hope to stop at the bottom of the driveway instead of shooting across the road and down an embankment. Treachery!
However, inside this old house, spring seems to be abloom! Thanks to the unseasonably warm fall and fluctuating temperatures, I have been living in the midst of an ongoing ladybug infestation. I like ladybugs and I don’t mind them flying around the house, but I was first concerned for their survival. They like a measure of humidity, of which I have little inside, and the aphid population registers even lower since I gave away most of my houseplants before moving. Aphids, along with some mites and scale insects, are the only things ladybugs will eat, and while I’m into feeding the world since humans are consuming nearly everything there is, I won’t be importing mites to my home.
On the flip side, it can become a little tiresome having so many ladybugs around. They have landed in my food prep areas while I am cooking, and also on the dining table during meals. There are worse things in life that could, and do, happen, but it’s unappetizing when even a nice insect drops from the chandelier and plops next to my plate. Kitchen activities require heightened vigilance. The beetles have occasionally buzzed my head, landed in my hair, and turned up in my folded canvas grocery bags.
On warmer, sunnier days in the late fall, literally hundreds of them swarmed the south facing side of the house, doors and windows; penetrated the structure through cracks; and occupied every room on both levels of my home as they vied for hibernation space. I have since learned an interesting equation:
southern exposure + light colored house + clapboard = ladybug beacon
I saw a congress of eight of them high along one vaulted bedroom wall, and over the course of a couple of days, they moved closer and closer to each other until, with my uncorrected vision one dusky evening, they took on a menacing form. They like to cluster together while hibernating, which I get, but seeing them amassed on the wall over a bed troubled me. Not being able to reach them for eviction, I left them alone and eventually they dispersed or, more possibly, died. I have since learned that affixing a stocking to a vacuum cleaner hose with a rubberband can be a harmless way to capture and release them.
I was aware that the United States is home to an invasive type of ladybug, so I consulted an expert on the subject, www.ladybuglady.com, to confirm my suspicion that these were my interlopers. I think what I have here are Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia Axyridis), a breed that was imported to the US from Asia in the early part of the 20th century for crop pest control. Over the last decade or so, they have been released around the northeastern United States to protect our hardwood trees. Both of these initiatives were successful, and hey, no chemicals were used other than, I suppose, the fuel to transport them to release point. I am given to understand that the releases are no longer taking place in this region, which is probably a good thing since I have enough to at minimum protect the state of New York. This particular type of ladybug reportedly will sometimes bite if frenzied for a place to hibernate, but I can’t bring myself to swat them.
When we moved into this home, the owner surprised me with the suggestion to set off insecticide foggers, if we went away for a few days, to thwart returning to a maelstrom of lady beetles. She also crinkled her nose as she cautioned that they smell terrible. My perplexity at the time had to be visible, but I have since read in several places that, when stressed, ladybugs release a yellow substance that stains and emits a foul odor. My unscientific mind likens this defense mechanism to that of an octopus or squid releasing ink. Evidently, a prior occupant disturbed a cluster of ladybugs, and the consequences have outlasted both of their tenancies.
I wouldn’t set off foggers to kill ladybugs, but having pets inside the home would preclude me from doing so just the same. They haven’t bitten me, so I don’t whack them. As long as they stay out of my food, I can catch and release them outside where they crawl back under the clapboard, hopefully to reorient themselves to torpor and not just reenter the house through another crevice. If I can steward them through the winter, the gardens this summer will be lovely.