From My WindowIssue Date: October 14, 2020
The Harlequins are Coming!
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
Last Friday was a lovely, classic fall day. I moved my afternoon yoga practice out on the patio and unrolled my mat. As I did so, I brushed off several little beetles, which, disconcertingly, were immediately replaced by several more. As I looked back at the house, bathed in brilliant sunshine, an army of cute little beetles could be seen roving hither and thither, even trekking straight up to the eves, motoring merrily along underneath them completely upside down, and then up and over the eves troughs.
"Ladybugs" are beloved in our nursery rhymes and children's books, perhaps due to their cute, comical appearance and benign impact on us. They eat aphids, tiny insects that suck the juice out of some of our favorite plants. Their bright orange and black spots coloration is not without purpose. Much like the black and orange Monarch butterflies, their eye-catching pattern warns predators "I taste awful! Leave me alone!"
But what I was watching was not the "Seven Spot" ladybugs of my childhood. No, this was a more recent arrival in Wisconsin, sometimes called "Asian" Ladybugs although they are native to Russia as well as China, Japan and Korea. They are also called Harlequin or Multicolor Asian ladybugs. You can tell the difference from my childhood "Seven Spot" ladybugs by a rather noticeable "M" marking on the head " they are also a little bigger and with variable spot patterns or even no spots at all " but you don't need to get that close a look. If you see hundreds or even thousands of them crawling around on a warm fall day together, it's a safe bet you are looking at Asians/Harlequins.
There are two separate tales of how this new ladybug arrived in the United States. One is that they "stowed away" in cargo from Japan that was unloaded in New Orleans. The other, which seems to be more likely, is that during the 1960-1990's the U.S. Department of Agriculture (not the DNR, which I hear all the time) attempted to establish them in the states as a means of controlling agricultural pests attacking pecans and apple crops. Large numbers of the beetles were released in many southern states during those years. Regardless, they are here in huge numbers, steadily expanding northward, and there is no value in calling them "invasive." They are permanent residents as the result of good intentions of helping those who raise our food. And it's possible they are doing more good than harm.
For the majority of the year, the new beetles attack agricultural pests as originally planned, and are unnoticeable. But on warm sunny fall days, they start looking for a place to hang out during subfreezing temperatures which can kill them. My house, and maybe yours, looks like a great place to spend the winter!
Luckily, if they find their way indoors, the entomology website says they do not eat human foods, chew wood, or attack our clothing. They do not reproduce during their indoor stay either. The website says they do not transmit disease, although large indoor infestations could cause allergies in some individuals. They do emit a stinky stain that can mar painted surfaces when they feel threatened.
The best defense is tightly-sealed windows and doors, openings in siding for pipes or wires and soffits. Obviously this is best done BEFORE the invasion starts " because if they do find their way in, they emit a pherone (smell) that other ladybugs recognize as a call " "Hey guys! I found a great place to stay! Come on in and join me!" After all, who wants to spend a winter alone, right? Which means instead of hosting a couple of bugs you might have a beetle convocation that violates the social distancing rules! (For the record, I fully support such rules.)
For large infestations, there are suggested insecticides, but for the normal aggravations of just a couple of dozen, you can collect them with a vacuum and then dispose of the bag or empty the canister outside your living space.
Dog lovers " there is a very famous internet picture of Bailey the dog that had about 40 of these beetles lodged in the roof of its mouth. The picture is repulsive and scary if you are a dog lover. Luckily vets say such events are extremely rare, and that Bailey's case resulted from deliberately eating beetles, in fact one account I looked at said after recovering from this experience, Bailey was caught consuming beetles again. So no need to panic over the beetles harming your dog " if your dog has access to large numbers of beetles, and is the kind of dog that will eat literally anything, (that would be quite a few dogs I know,) watch for drooling or signs of discomfort and take a look in their mouth or a trip to the vet as needed. Apparently orange and black does NOT signal dogs that something is not good to eat.
After I finished my practice some adorable little chickadees caught my eye. They were roosting on branches at the edge of the woods, at just about the height of our second level windows. They were repeatedly launching, flying toward the siding and then darting back to their branches. They were not going to the windows, so I don't think this had anything to do with their reflections. It looked to me like they were eating their fill of the beetles " perhaps no one told them they taste noxious, or maybe if you grab the bugs suddenly they don't have time to squirt their toxin. Or maybe they think "Hey, it's good enough for Bailey, it is good enough for me!" I had to shake my mat and sweatshirt off over the railing to dislodge cute hitchhikers before I went back in the house. No desire on my part to do "safer at home" with tiny guests this winter!
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
Recent stories, opinions and photos