Ladybugs worth putting up with until spring

By for CAES News

By April Reese
University of Georgia

You may consider lady beetles a nuisance as these orange invaders move into your home, borrowing tiny spaces of your shelter from winter weather. But come spring and summer, you'll be glad they survived to move into your yard and garden.

Kris Braman, an entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, says the Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) is a beneficial bug.

Also known as the Halloween beetle and just as a ladybug, Asian lady beetles would die if they were exposed to the kind of deep-freeze chill expected in Georgia this week. Fortunately, most won't be exposed to it.

"Most of them are hunkered down in some kind of shelter now," Braman said. "Insects are tough. They survive a lot better than we sometimes think they do."

Braman said Asian lady beetles are "especially interesting," and particularly valuable to homeowners, because they feed on aphids that attack woody plants.

"They attack the aphids eating your pecans and crepe myrtles," she said. "They even attack aphids on roses. So many of the other lady beetles don't eat the aphids that attack woody plants."

Getting warm

The lady bugs can become a nuisance, though. "Some people report that the insects have bitten them. That is fairly unusual," Braman said. "But most people don't like the insects in their homes."

People see ladybugs more during warm spells. "As we see some fluctuation in the temperature, we're going to see more activity from these insects," she said. "They get out and move around, looking for shelter and trying to get warm."

Windowsills and ceiling vents are popular places for the beetles to congregate. They're sometimes also found in large numbers in attics or in light fixtures.

Getting them out

If enough of them get into your house, Braman said the best way to get them out is to suck them up in the vacuum cleaner.

"We have to remember that they do have a yellow hemolymph," she said. "That's just insect blood, but it can stain the walls or furniture if we're not careful."

It's hard to keep lady beetles from getting in at all.

"It's tricky to try to keep them out," Braman said. "They can fit through the smallest hole. Try to seal windows to keep them out. Seal around any holes you find in windows."

Try to save them

If they're lingering on porches, sweep them into a bag, she said, and release them far enough away from the house that they don't come right back in. "Better yet," she said, "if you have woody trees or a wood line, this would be a good place to release the beetles safely."

Come spring, the beetles will move out on their own.

"As weather warms up, the lady beetles will become active and begin moving out, searching for aphids to feed on," Braman said. "Because they don't feed in the winter, they're more than willing to exit your home and move on, protecting your ornamental plants."

Braman describes the insects as an "unwelcome winter guest that stays too long to suit us." But she urges people to remember that they do good things.

"Lady beetles are one of our primary beneficial insects," she said. "They feed on aphids, scale insects and mealybugs -- those are some of the most important pests of ornamental plants -- so we should conserve these beneficial insects."

(April Reese is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)