Far be it from me to state the obvious, but not all Ladybugs are ladies nor are they bugs. They are beetles (true bugs are half-wing insects such as stinkbugs) which use both the men’s and the ladies bathrooms. To be a male ladybug is akin to being a boy named Sue. According to tradition, the name originated in medieval times to honor the crop protecting abilities of these aphid-eating insects. They were viewed as gifts from the Virgin Mary and thus named “Bugs of our Lady.” Later shortened to Ladybugs, the name stuck.
As far as I know, there are no church parishes named “Our Lady of the Bugs” in existence, but I would not have any problems attending mass at such a church. Over the course of human history, Ladybugs have always been painted in a positive manner. From “Ladybug ladybug fly away home” to “Bishop bishop Barnaby” they have long been a part of childhood rhyme. I’ve yet to see a Halloween without at least a few kids dressed up as Ladybugs and have never have seen a child attired as a Dung Beetle. Adult gardeners still appreciate their pest controlling presence and deliberately release them by the thousands (ladybugs not dung beetles).
There is no one species of Ladybug. There are at least 60-70 species in North America alone. Only one has a bad name, and we’ll get to that in a minute. I recently plucked a frigid little Twice-stabbed Lady Beetle off my sliding glass door. A black Ladybug with two circular red spots, this insect was probably seeking shelter under my siding shingles and was temporarily stifled by the sub-freezing temperature. Come to think of it, I will now have to call this the Twice-mentioned Ladybug because I already featured this species in a previous blog (April 2012).
I did turn the creature over to reveal the compact form of these beetles – something I did not do in my earlier posting. True to the color code expressed on their elytra (hard outer wing covers), they have a black body accented by a smart red abdomen.
As a rule, ladybugs such as the Twice-stabbed Twice-mentioned type are still held in high esteem, but their reputation has been tainted by the activities of the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (or MALB for short). Asian Lady Bugs, in fact, bring out some very odd literary and social behavior in humans who are once-bitten twice shy.
Identifying a MALB seems to be a relatively simple process if you accept the internet as your guide. According to on-line literature, native ladybugs are orange with 4-6 spots and MALBs are burnt-orange with 16-18 spots. Of course natives such as the Twice-stabbed , which are black with only two spots, and 7-spotted Ladybugs (with seven spots believe it or not) screw up such simplicity. Add to this the fact that MALBs come with a multiplicity of shading and spotting options. Individuals within any grouping will have anywhere from zero spots to 20 or more – backed by yellow orange to burnt orange coloring. If your ladybug has a whole lot of spots, say 8 or more, then you can say that is a MALB with 67.5 % accuracy (see beginning photo).
An invasive species, the MALB isn’t really all that bad. They eat aphids and perform the same beneficial duties as their native counterparts but because they bite, stink, and swarm they are black-listed. The worse thing that anyone can truly say about them is that they offer discomfort. They will take a nip of human skin or exude a noxious fluid from their leg joints if handled roughly, but that is a defensive thing. Advice given at one website advises handling Asian Ladybugs “with extreme caution” surely overstates the case. One handles dynamite and nuclear wastes with extreme caution. But another website declares, in all seriousness, that “Ladybugs do not feed on people” so this should set our minds at ease.
Perhaps the most obnoxious of MALB traits is their propensity to invade houses in the fall when they seek over-wintering shelters. Sometimes millions of them can find their way into our attics. Shifting outside temperatures often force them into our living spaces. You’d think, by the reports, that we are due for another Alfred Hitchcock movie replacing the birds with the bugs. “A huge swarm enveloped my house last fall,” claimed one writer, “causing me to fall off the porch and break my shoulder.” OMG, lock down the shutters and brace for the MALB invasion sent down by our Virgin Mother!
Normally whenever pesky insects are involved, pesticides are called for. In the case of Asian Ladybugs, however, this is not advised even by most bug control companies. “Warning: Pesticides are poisonous” states an official web source as if we didn’t know that already. I was just pouring myself a bowl of hot pesticides for lunch when I read this shocking revelation and was forced to put it outside for the cats to eat.
How does one control these things, then? Are we to allow them to bother us with impunity? The answer indeed may well be “yes” unless you take the best advice gleaned from web sources. Although ignoring them or putting up with occasional problems is one answer, vacuuming appears to be the best response to home invading ladybugs. Suck them up and toss them out into the snow to freeze to death. If you do take this route I would suggest that you rush down to the Our Lady of the Bugs chapel and pray for forgiveness afterwards.