For Release October 24, 2004

Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home... Please!

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) periodically looks for insects from other countries to deal with insect or weed pests that have invaded the United States from those countries or plants that might prove to be beneficial. In the early years of this program, not much effort was made to study the possible negative impacts of these species. That's how the south ended up with Kudzu and how we ended up with Sericea Lespedeza.

Scale and aphid insects can be a real problem in production horticulture and agriculture. A tree dwelling lady beetle from eastern Asia, known as the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (MALB), was imported and released in the central and southern US from 1977 to 1981. This was done after a period of study to make sure that this insect wouldn't devour other desirable or beneficial insects. Apparently, the one thing that they forgot to do was to examine it's behavior when cold wintery weather started to move in.

In its native eastern Asia, the MALB moves, en masse, to rocky cliffs and crags or behind the loose bark of certain tree species. Then when spring returns, they come out of hibernation to snack on insects we don't want snacking on our plants. Unfortunately, here in the United States, it can't find enough rocky cliffs or the right kind of trees. So they make do the best they can and head straight for houses!

Once they get into the house they will act like many invading insects and try to find some place to snuggle away and spend the winter. If you disturb them, they have this bad habit of "bleeding" out of their leg joints. This fluid can stain and usually has an undesirable odor. Unfortunately, for most of these lady beetles, our houses are usually too dry and they will dehydrate and die before spring.

The MALB is fairly easy to identify. The wing covers can be anywhere from red to orange to yellow. They can have wing cover spots or not. If they do have spots, there are usually 9 on each wing cover. If you look at the "face" of the MALB it appears to have white cheeks.

The last three years we have seen increasing problems with fall MALB invasions into homes. Since most of these problems tend to run in cycles, I was hoping that it wouldn't be as bad this fall. But obviously we're not yet to the top of the cycle! There is no difference in dealing with this home invading insects than with any of the others such as elm leaf beetles, crickets and box elder bugs.

The first step is exclusion. Don't give them a chance to get in. Make sure that screens are tight fighting and that weather-stripping around doors is snug and secure. These are small insects and it doesn't take much of an opening to let them into your home. Caulk all cracks in foundations and, with older homes especially, caulk around exterior window moldings. Check all the utility entrances into your home to make sure that where wires, cables or pipes enter your house aren't serving as critter freeways.

Spraying pesticides inside the home does very little good to reduce this nuisance problem. Inside the house your best bet is using the vacuum cleaner when they congregate around windows. Around the outside of your house you can spray foundations with any pesticide labeled for nuisance insect control. You may find better control using a product containing permethrin or cyfluthrin. Spray foundations and exterior door thresholds. One treatment every 3 to 4 weeks is adequate. And then maintain some patience. Once this weather cools down the problem will diminish!


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