JANUARY
1998

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

01-08-98

Ladybug, Ladybug Get Out of My Home

Back in the 1920's, a cockroach poet named archie wrote a poem called "the froward ladybug."  As it turned out, the ladybug that had become a problem for archie was not the insect most of us know as a ladybug. The ladybug of archie was a female insect, a lady bug.

Ladybugs are some of the most recognizable insects. They are beetles with hard shells or wing covers. Most are colored bright orange or red. Many have dots on their wing covers, and most are considered beneficial insects because they are well-known predators. They feed on aphids, plant-eating insects hated by most farmers and gardeners. And in spite of their name not all ladybugs are ladies. Many are gentleman bugs!

But even an insect with the name of ladybug that gets rid of insects we don't like can sometimes wear out its welcome. In the case of ladybugs, that occurs when they move into our homes during the winter months. When they do, most homeowners take a dismal view of the activity and like the cockroach archie, they acquire a dislike for the ladybug.

During the winter, ladybugs in the adult or beetle stage seek protected sites in which to hibernate. Such places include under rocks, piles of leaves, in window wells and under the eaves of houses. Most ladybugs, however, appear not to be content to stay in protected places outside. Instead, they manage to crawl into our attics or wall spaces. From there they find their way into the interior of our warm homes and crawl over cabinets, carpets and light fixtures.

Wintertime ladybug invaders vary in color, size and in number of black spots. These differences lead many folks to conclude that several ladybug species are in their homes. That may or may not be true.

There are several hundred species of ladybugs, many of which are found in homes at one time or another. However, home-invading ladybugs usually are the species known as the Asian ladybug. Asian ladybugs vary widely in color and markings even though they are of the same species.

Ladybugs do not cause damage in our homes so their presence is a nuisance rather than a real problem. They will not eat our houseplants or damage our clothing. They do not often bite, although they might if held tightly.

They do have a rather nasty characteristic however. They sometimes smell bad. Not all the time, just sometimes. The stink comes from the scientific habit known as reflex bleeding. When the insect is disturbed, it can expel a smelly, yellowish liquid from the area where the leg joins the body. The insect uses the liquid to ward off predators because it tastes as bad as it smells. So, when we touch a ladybug it sometimes responds as if we were a predator and squirts us with the ladybug equivalent of mace.

When that happens, we, like archie the cockroach, could describe the insect as froward, or--as Webster defines the word--obstinately willful!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann