Thursday, October 13, 2011

Whatever Happened to the Asian Lady Beetle Bug?

The recent stretch of unseasonably mild weather through Columbus Day helped push the average monthly temperature to 60.8 degrees, which is nearly three degrees above normal for October. In fact, Monday's high of 85 degrees tied the record for the date. Although I welcomed the warmer weather, I began to worry about the annual infestation of an unwelcome house guest.

About a week ago I started checking the windows and doors outside my home for signs of the Asian lady beetle. You may recall that two years ago, there was an infestation of these "stink bugs." Hundreds and even thousands of these harmless creatures were invading homes and businesses in October, 2009. However, last year I didn't see any.

It was exactly two years ago that I wrote about the invasion of the lady beetle. The onset of warmer air in mid-October usually signals the return of the ladybugs, lured out of forests by the warm daytime sun and driven indoors with the evening chill. It happens every year just about this time, and it’s not that unusual, according to Eric Day, manager of the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Tech. “You get these warm days (in) October, and they get active,” he said. “If you have a house that’s infested, you can literally find thousands and thousands inside.”

Two years ago, after I saw many of them inside my home, I decided to examine the windows more closely. It didn’t take long to figure out how the ladybugs were getting between the screen and window. The insulation at the top of the screens was all but destroyed, and the little creatures were flying inside. I needed to take action by securing the window and door frames with strong tape. I did the same thing each of the past two years, just in case.

Day said the type of ladybug that causes the ruckus is known as the Asian lady beetle, an invasive species present in the Eastern United States for about 15 years. How the bugs got here is unclear, but the best guess, he opined, is that they hitched a ride on cargo ships or escaped from the United States Department of Agriculture experimental fields, a charge the agency denies.

As if the mere presence of tens of thousands of bugs in your living room isn’t enough, they emit a gut-churning musky odor that lingers after they die, and they die quickly in dry, indoor air. They also leave yellowish stains on everything, caused by a defense mechanism called “reflex bleeding.” The ladybugs aren’t particularly harmful, and in most cases, the bugs will just retreat or die without any treatment.

If the lady bugs haven't appeared by now, I think we're going to be okay. Much more seasonable temperarures are expected this weekend and next week after a cold front moves through the region tomorrow. Daytime temperatures may not escape the 50s by the end of next week. Let's hope we don't see the lady bugs this year.

Paul

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