Off and on for weeks now, ladybugs have surfaced as a fitting subject for this column in springtime.
There are some 5,000 varieties of ladybugs. The insects got their name because a thousand years ago, in medieval Europe, swarms of insect pests were devouring the crops. Farmers in those Catholic lands prayed to the Virgin Mary and on came the aphid eaters, named after that Lady.
Fast forward to the 20th century when the Department of Agriculture, in an effort to protect fruit and nut trees from aphids, introduced the Asian Lady Beetle. “These releases occurred in several mid-Atlantic states, a couple in New England, several in the Southeast, one midwest state, and two states on the West Coast,” wrote William Kibbel III, on his Web site, oldhouseweb.com.
Kibbel says the beetles seek refuge in buildings a few months before winter sets in. “… they’re not breeding … just hanging out inside and exit in the spring to feed on aphids.”
The first Asian lady beetle of the season appeared in our house maybe three weeks ago in the first warm days. Since then, they’ve multiplied horribly. They swarm on the skylight and kamakaze onto my keyboard or fall off the toothpaste tube. They’re not above the odd bite either, despite claims to the contrary.
The Asian lady beetles are not poisonous and they don’t eat your walls. It’s just that so very many of them are, well, they’re creepy. When our young granddaughter showed off her new socks, emblazoned with ladybugs, I stifled a little shriek.
Another Web site offers a different set of “facts.” The lady beetles enter your house when spring brings warmer, but still chilly, days. The beetles, shades of dirty orange, with or without the characteristic ladybug spots, hatch in the eaves and under the sills where they’ve been hibernating.
They can get through very tiny apertures, and they do. They come in to get out of the cold spring.
One would think they would be trying to get out of the house but they are coming in, Kibbel says. It happens because of the variation in temperatures. “The ladybugs are merely confused,” he said.
Ladybug Questions & Answers is the subject of one Web site that is kid-oriented. One question was: “We found ladybug eggs at our house. They hatched! What can we expect to see and how can we care for them?”
I didn’t read the answer.
Another question: “Can I keep a ladybug as a temporary pet?”
Yes, get a bug box.
My favorite: “Are all ladybugs girls?”
Linda Farr Macgregor is a freelance writer; contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org