21 January 2013

Monday macrobug: ladybug infestation

Posted by Callan Bentley

October 2012 was a bumper month for macrobugs here at Bentley Farm.

But… none more so than the ladybugs:

One of the downsides to living way out in the sticks is that we have to deal with a lot of insects. Mostly, I relish this interaction, as the “Monday Macrobug” series attests. But the gnats, the ticks, the black widow spiders – they’re collectively a bit of a bummer. Add to that list the multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis). Though a beneficial predator of pest insects, the “ladybug’s” habit of mass congregation on the south (sunlit) sides of houses means that their introduction to the North American continent has been a mixed blessing.

After our first frost, the day warmed up and tens of thousands of these ladybugs congregated on our house, seeking entry through small cracks and crevices, looking for a place to hibernate for the winter. At first, I thought, “Oooh. Look! So many ladybugs.” But then their numbers increased, and increased again. The docile cuddly little beetles became a swarming mass. The house began to smell of ladybugs (yes, there were so many we can smell them!!). I brought out the vacuum cleaner.

This is what it looked like, mid-afternoon on that first day, when I first dumped the small vacuum:

Then more ladybugs showed up. Then more. I put away the small vacuum and brought out the big guns. I vacuumed up ladybugs at a rate of 30-500 per minute, and I did that for hours. In fact, I think I ruined the vacuum cleaner, as its inner workings became coated in a yellow goo of ladybug exudate.

The greatest concentration of the beetles was on our screened-in porch (It looked like a horror show out there!), but significant numbers were finding their way into the house proper, apparently via the window frames.

Here’s a look into a Mason jar with ladybugs that we swept off the floor near our big west-facing windows:

Half an hour later, this same number would be back covering that same area. Vacuuming them up became part of our daily routine. Occasionally stinkbugs and wasps got caught in the mix. About halfway through the following week, large numbers of houseflies joined the swarm. The vacuum got a great workout. I even bought a ten-foot length of PVC pipe to act as an extension on the vacuum and help reach the high ceiling and tall windows.

People tell me this is typical ladybug behavior in our area for that time of year. But, man, was it ever gross.