Do Ladybugs BITE? And How Can You Keep Them Out of the House?
Question. Dear Mike: Love, love, LOVEyour show!! I am a dedicated listener. Now, would you please be so kindas to settle an argument between my Mother and I? (A lobster dinner isin my future if I am correct!) The Question is: Do Ladybugs (the gardenvariety ladybug we all know and love) bite? My mother insiststhat she received a nasty bite from a ladybug. I say "hogwash", there'sno way these sweet little girlies would ever bite—she must have had arun in with some other mean old bug in a ladybug costume. Thank youMike, I can taste the lobster already!
---Feona inKutztown, Pennsylvania
Hi Mike: I love your show even though I don't have a garden. (Mygirlfriend does and I learn a lot about how to help her. I wish yourshow was three hours long—at least!) Anyway, I wanted to give you aheads up on ladybugs that bite. My parents live in Southern Delawarealong the Indian River, and their house is filled with bugs that looklike ladybugs, but the black spots on them are all in a row, and theybite. They are loaded with them now. New sewers were recently put in bya contractor who used South American workers—could they have broughtthe bugs here?
---Steve inEast Norriton
Answer. Sorry, Feona—looks like thelobster wins this time. (And NEVER bet against your mother—that's asbad as a husband thinking he can 'win' an argument with hiswife!) Steve is correct about the ladies' ability—and perhapspropensity—to nibble away, although he's several continents off on hisgeography. The ladybugs invading homes almost everywhere in the countrythis time of year are from Asia, not South America.
They were released years ago to combat crop pests, but promptlydisappeared. Then they showed up again years later—gaining notice whenthey began invading our homes to hibernate over winter, as they used todo in caves back home. As with the ones Steve's parents are battling,their markings can be all over the place compared to those of the"Convergent" ladies we're so familiar with. That's why this strain arecalled "multicolored Asian ladybugs."
And yes: I too, was at first suspicious about the biting stories. Butmany people have emailed to ask about it—and to report being bit! So Iturned once again to one of my favorite entomological experts, formerbeneficial insect specialist for the Canadian government, and nowprivate IPM Consultant Dr. Linda Gilkeson, who lives on Salt SpringIsland in British Columbia.
She replies: "You bet those little critters can bite! They don't haveany kind of venom or irritating saliva (like mosquitoes, black flies,etc.), but they are just big enough for us to feel it when they pinchour skin.
"I suspect the reason people are so shocked," she continues, "isn'tthat they got nipped (a minor insult compared to the bites of mostother insects), but that it was the famously friendly ladybug of songand legend that did the nipping. It REALLY freaks some people out. Ihave heard of soccer games (played by hearty guys, all) being scrubbedbecause so many Multicolored Asian lady beetles were getting onto theplayer's white shirts.....oh the horror!"
Thank you, Dr. Linda. So we can now say, with sound scientific backing,that multicolored Asian ladybugs do indeed 'bite'. Although I wouldprefer we use a less aggressive term—like 'nibble'. (Or maybe "Harmoniahickey"—a tribute to the Asian lady's scientific name.) I'm notjust semanticizing here—these aren't really 'bites' in the true senseof the word. The ladybugs don't break the skin (not even close), andmany researchers feel they're really just kind of 'testing' the surface(human skin) they're on. So don't be freakin' out like them wussysoccer players—you may feel a little nibble, but these ain'tyellowjackets, folks.
Anyway, if you currently have the indoor Ladybird Beetle blues, here'sa link to last year's Questionof the Week detailing removal strategies. One addition to thatinvaluable info: Whatever do you, don't smash, squish or squash them!They make a stain that can be difficult—often impossible—to remove.
Question. Each fall, my mountain cabinin West Virginia is invaded by ladybugs looking for a place to spendthe winter. Despite all efforts to seal the house—I have caulked everycrack I can find: On, around, and under the cabin; bought new Pellawindows and storm doors; and put screens over the flues and vents! Theystill find their way in, big time. (I vacuum them up severaltimes a day and when I am away for a few days, there are so many theylook like gravel on the floor near the windows.) Is there anything Ican do to the outside of the house to retard them and discourage theirseeking entry? When they swarm on a warm day after a cold snap,the outside of the house is literally covered with the crawlingcritters. I want a very nasty chemical that I can spray all over theoutside that will last for three or four months! Thanks,
---Richard inPotomac, MD
Answer. When we discussed this issuewith Bug Doctor Linda G last year, she mentioned that the Ladies oftenseek out the "Alpha" house in an area—the one with the tallest orbrightest colored South-facing façade. I suggest that be you,Richie.
We don't do "nasty chemicals", but we bet that one of them garlic-basedmosquito repellant sprays (designed to be sprayed in back yards torepel the beasts), like Garlic Barrier or Mosquito Barrier would makethe side of your cabin just as unattractive as any toxin. Garlic is oneof the best-known all-around insect repellants, and thanks to thesesprays, it's probably the most available one—at least in the summertime.
You'll find several different brands on store shelves during theblood-sucking season, but alas, they have almost certainly beendisplaced by drunken snowmen and dancing reindeer. But they're stillaround online—just search the names and you'll find lots of suppliers.Buy the one with the highest concentration of garlic oil (or ease ofuse) and soak the South-facing side of the cabin. NEXT year, startspraying mid-October or about two weeks before you generally see largenumbers show up. It'll keep them away as well as anything. But unlikeyour request for terrible toxins, it won't raise your risk of cancer orearly-onset Parkinson's. Sorry—you can always breathe deeply at the gaspump if you feel the need.
Oh, and since I wrote that article last year, I've discovered two cooltraps for the ones that do get inside. Here's an Ohio State UniversityBulletin describing one you can make yourself: http://www.ipm.osu.edu/lady/blt1.htm; and here's a high tech trap you can buyready made from "Biocare" that captures them alive—or dead if you fillthe bottom with water (Please don't!):http://www.biconet.com/traps/asianTrap.html.
All ladybug traps are based on the fact that the ladies are attractedto light, so place the traps in a room, turn them on, and turn off allthe other lights.
You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week ©2005 MikeMcGrath