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Home Invading Buggies

Q. Mike: Our house is inundated with Lady Bugs trying to find a home for the winter—I'm talking thousands crawling in every crack and crevice. They fly into my dinner, my lamps, my hair…. What can I do to kill them, or at least reduce their numbers? I don't use pesticides or other poisons in my yard or garden, but honestly, I no longer have the patience for these smelly little devils!!
    ---Robin in Bennett, Wisconsin
There are thousands all over the house! Where are all these ladybugs coming from?
    ---Julia in Fulton, MD
A. Asia! These multi-colored Asian ladybugs (so named because of their wild array of colors and 'spot designs') were deliberately imported and released to combat pest insects, which they do very well in the summer, especially in their alligator-like larval form. But back in their native Asia, they then spend the winter hibernating in caves. When autumn arrives here, they flock to the closest thing they can find—that would be your home—looking for ways to get inside.

Next season, you should be able to keep them from congregating by spraying the sunny sides of your cave (typically the ones facing South and West) with a non-toxic repellant at the beginning of September. Commercially made garlic products are available for this very purpose (one brand name is Garlic Barrier), or you can make your own if you're handy. Just blend up enough garlic cloves and water to make a strong solution, strain it, pour into a sprayer, add a few drops of dishwashing soap and a few drops of vegetable oil, shake and spray.

Don't use chemical pesticides—these creatures are beneficial, and those nasty pesticide sprays are not. Are you so mad at the little ladies that you'd trade a petty annoyance for kidney cancer?

Of course, you should also deny them entry. Make sure screens and storm windows fit tightly, and caulk up any cracks or other openings on those walls. (This will also keep your wintertime heat in.)

Indoors? As we have described in a previous Question of the Week, you can vacuum them up and then dispose of them or try and store them in the fridge for garden use next year. (You may not want them around, but gardeners like moi would be thrilled to enjoy their aphid eating company.) Indoor ladybugs can also be captured with traps of many kinds, like this inexpensive one and more expensive items that utilize artificial light, like the "BioCare Asian Ladybug Trap", which can be set to capture them dead or alive. Here's lots more details on trapping from yet another previous Question of the Week on this topic.

Q. I can't find any box elder trees nearby, but every Fall an infestation of thousands of box elder bugs invades my house. I have to go in through the garage because they cover the front door! I would consider spraying insecticide on them, but they are accompanied by ladybugs, which I know are very beneficial. I'm not sure if they are having an interspecies mating party at my place (is that possible?), but they are driving us crazy. Is there something I can do to prevent them coming back next year? Thanks,
    ---Alan in Montgomery County, Maryland (next to Rock Creek Park)
How do I get rid of these bugs without cutting down the tree? This is the 2nd year of this blight!
    ---Kathy in Noel (SW) Missouri
A. Although some sources do recommend cutting down all the box elders in the area as a control measure, it really wouldn't help—these bugs also love to spend the summer in maple trees; which you probably have growing nearby, and which Alan's Rock Creek Park (a beautiful wild area that is the Washington DC region's equivalent of Central Park) is certainly full of.

Unlike the Asian ladies that are housebreaking alongside them (sorry, Alan—no shenanigans here; you must just have a REALLY nice house in the eyes of buggies!), researchers disagree as to whether these box elder bugs are really trying to add their names to your mailbox for the winter. They may simply flock to the sunny side of homes to get warm and then follow that warmth inside when the sun goes down and the outside gets chilly. So outdoor sealing and repellant spraying and indoor vacuuming with a long wand are the best answers here as well. DON'T squish them—or any of the other bugs we have discussed. They make a nasty stain when squished. As do we all.

Q. Why does my workplace seem to be a choice destination for soldier bugs? (I am hoping they are not stinkbugs, but can't tell the difference). Yesterday I must have carried a dozen outside. Should I be concerned? Are they harmful to houseplants?
    ---Marcy; Easter Seals of Southeastern Pa; Philadelphia
A. No, none of the home-invading bugs pose any threat to people or indoor plants. Interestingly, if these bugs were the VERY similar looking spined soldier bug, it would be the opposite, as those beneficial insects would love to chow down on houseplant plaguers like aphids, scale and mealybugs. But alas, the soldiers only bivouac outdoors and do not come inside. You have—no offense—stinkbugs, which live up to their name (squish these bugs and you will have stained surfaces and bad smells) and are agricultural pests outdoors in the summer, particularly in orchards.

The advice is the same here—as it is for conifer seed bugs and numerous other six-legged squatters with the same annoying winter home-breaking habit. Outdoors: Seal up, spray repellant, and perhaps even consider making the house a darker color when it comes time to repaint (light colored homes are warmer on the outside when the sun hits them, making them more inviting to buggies with chilly widdle feeties). Indoors: Light traps and vacuums; but get rid of that vacuum cleaner bag quickly, because a bag full of stink bugs can smell, like—well, a bag full of stink bugs.

And finally, don't even think about spraying pesticides inside your home to control any of these creatures. YOU will breathe in lots more of those fumes than the bugs, especially in a sealed-up-against-the-winter house. These pests are 100% harmless indoors; the nerve toxins and hormonal disrupters in those spray cans are NOT.

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