Do Ladybugs BITE? And How Can You Keep Them Out of the House?
Question. Dear Mike: Love, love, LOVE your show!! I am a dedicated listener. Now, would you please be so kind as to settle an argument between my Mother and I? (A lobster dinner is in my future if I am correct!) The Question is: Do Ladybugs (the garden variety ladybug we all know and love) bite? My mother insists that she received a nasty bite from a ladybug. I say "hogwash", there's no way these sweet little girlies would ever bite—she must have had a run in with some other mean old bug in a ladybug costume. Thank you Mike, I can taste the lobster already!
---Feona in Kutztown, Pennsylvania
Hi Mike: I love your show even though I don't have a garden. (My girlfriend does and I learn a lot about how to help her. I wish your show was three hours long—at least!) Anyway, I wanted to give you a heads up on ladybugs that bite. My parents live in Southern Delaware along the Indian River, and their house is filled with bugs that look like ladybugs, but the black spots on them are all in a row, and they bite. They are loaded with them now. New sewers were recently put in by a contractor who used South American workers—could they have brought the bugs here?
---Steve in East Norriton
Answer. Sorry, Feona—looks like the lobster wins this time. (And NEVER bet against your mother—that's as bad as a husband thinking he can 'win' an argument with his wife!) Steve is correct about the ladies' ability—and perhaps propensity—to nibble away, although he's several continents off on his geography. The ladybugs invading homes almost everywhere in the country this time of year are from Asia, not South America.
They were released years ago to combat crop pests, but promptly disappeared. Then they showed up again years later—gaining notice when they began invading our homes to hibernate over winter, as they used to do 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 are called "multicolored Asian ladybugs."
And yes: I too, was at first suspicious about the biting stories. But many people have emailed to ask about it—and to report being bit! So I turned once again to one of my favorite entomological experts, former beneficial insect specialist for the Canadian government, and now private IPM Consultant Dr. Linda Gilkeson, who lives on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia.
She replies: "You bet those little critters can bite! They don't have any kind of venom or irritating saliva (like mosquitoes, black flies, etc.), but they are just big enough for us to feel it when they pinch our skin.
"I suspect the reason people are so shocked," she continues, "isn't that they got nipped (a minor insult compared to the bites of most other insects), but that it was the famously friendly ladybug of song and legend that did the nipping. It REALLY freaks some people out. I have heard of soccer games (played by hearty guys, all) being scrubbed because so many Multicolored Asian lady beetles were getting on to the player'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 would prefer we use a less aggressive term—like 'nibble'. (Or maybe "Harmoniahickey"—a tribute to the Asian lady's scientific name.) I'm not just semanticizing here—these aren't really 'bites' in the true sense of the word. The ladybugs don't break the skin (not even close), and many researchers feel they're really just kind of 'testing' the surface (human skin) they're on. So don't be freakin' out like them wussy soccer players—you may feel a little nibble, but these ain't yellowjackets, folks.
Anyway, if you currently have the indoor Ladybird Beetle blues, here's a link to last year's Question of the Week detailing removal strategies. One addition to that invaluable 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 cabin in West Virginia is invaded by ladybugs looking for a place to spend the winter. Despite all efforts to seal the house—I have caulked every crack I can find: On, around, and under the cabin; bought new Pella windows and storm doors; and put screens over the flues and vents! They still find their way in, big time. (I vacuum them up several times a day and when I am away for a few days, there are so many they look like gravel on the floor near the windows.) Is there anything I can do to the outside of the house to retard them and discourage their seeking entry? When they swarm on a warm day after a cold snap, the outside of the house is literally covered with the crawling critters. I want a very nasty chemical that I can spray all over the outside that will last for three or four months! Thanks,
---Richard in Potomac, MD
Answer. When we discussed this issue with Bug Doctor Linda G last year, she mentioned that the Ladies often seek out the "Alpha" house in an area—the one with the tallest or brightest colored South-facing façade. I suggest that be you, Richie.
We don't do "nasty chemicals", but we bet that one of them garlic-based mosquito repellant sprays (designed to be sprayed in back yards to repel the beasts), like Garlic Barrier or Mosquito Barrier would make the side of your cabin just as unattractive as any toxin. Garlic is one of the best-known all-around insect repellants, and thanks to these sprays, it's probably the most available one—at least in the summertime.
You'll find several different brands on store shelves during the blood-sucking season, but alas, they have almost certainly been displaced by drunken snowmen and dancing reindeer. But they're still around online—just search the names and you'll find lots of suppliers. Buy the one with the highest concentration of garlic oil (or ease of use) and soak the South-facing side of the cabin. NEXT year, start spraying mid-October or about two weeks before you generally see large numbers show up. It'll keep them away as well as anything. But unlike your request for terrible toxins, it won't raise your risk of cancer or early-onset Parkinson's. Sorry—you can always breathe deeply at the gas pump if you feel the need.
Oh, and since I wrote that article last year, I've discovered two cool traps for the ones that do get inside. Here's an Ohio State University Bulletin describing one you can make yourself: http://www.ipm.osu.edu/lady/blt1.htm; and here's a high tech trap you can buy ready made from "Biocare" that captures them alive—or dead if you fill the 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 attracted to light, so place the traps in a room, turn them on, and turn off all the other lights.
You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week ©2005 Mike McGrath