NEW YORK (AP) ­- Imagine this spectacle in the middle of Manhattan: 720,000 ladybugs from Montana, on the attack.

The red-and-black creatures have purposely been released into the greenery of one of New York’s biggest apartment complexes – a sprawling 80 acres of high rises on the East Side. These normally gentle ladybugs have a mission: to destroy and eat pests infesting the neatly landscaped property. The bugs from Bozeman arrived at the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village complex Thursday afternoon, packed in boxes shipped by a natural gardening company.

From mesh bags filled with wood shavings, groundskeepers scattered them in clusters of 72,000 per box. The ladybugs quickly spread their half-moon wings over the rental complex near First Avenue and East 14th Street.

In the next days and weeks, they’ll crawl into plants, flowers and shrubs in search of insects whose smell attracts them – soft-bodied, leaf-sucking aphids and mites.

The ladybugs may be worth the investment by the complex’s owner, Tishman Speyer.

On its Web site, Planet Natural offers “Live Ladybugs – Free Shipping!” at $16.50 for 2,000.

This species of ladybugs, as suggested by their Latin name – Hippodamia convergens – converge by the millions in the wilderness, where they’re harvested. Eric Vinje, owner of Planet Natural, which supplied the pest-killers for Manhattan, buys them from ladybug collectors working the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Oregon, California and Montana.

In Bozeman, he keeps them alive in large refrigerators where the temperature is kept to about 35 degrees. They go “dormant” at that temperature, using up their fat stores without eating anything, and staying alive for about five months, Vinje says. In the shipping boxes, they slowly awaken while flying to a buyer’s destination. By the time they reached Manhattan, “they were lively and ready to eat anything that was not too quick for them,” says Vinje.

Buying the bugs means Tishman Speyer can avoid using chemical insecticides.

“In most cases, we reach for a can of pesticide – and we kill not only the ‘bad guys,’ but the ‘good guys,”‘ says Vinje. “All we’re doing here is putting more of the ‘good guys’ to tip the scale, to get some kind of pest population control.”

Vinje says 720,000 ladybugs are about the right number to clean up the New York complex. Each insect can take care of a piece of land measuring about 19-by-19-inches. A ladybug can eat up to 50 pests a day, plus insect eggs.

And then, “they’ll do their thing out there!” Vinje says of the ladybugs’ avid procreation. Even their offspring – alligator-shaped larvae – keep munching as they grow.

The huge colony of benign creatures will consume billions of pests before moving on to greener pastures elsewhere – with fresh prey.

Apartment residents needn’t worry about confronting swarms of ladybugs, since this is not the Asian ladybug typically spotted in urban areas. “This one is not prone to entering homes,” says Vinje.

Plus, if one buys into a common superstition, the 720,000 Manhattan ladybugs should bring a torrent of good luck.

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