Indoor invaders not ladies

By for CAES News
By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

A roaring fire in the hearth, coats and mittens hanging in the foyer and windblown leaves racing around outside are all signs that winter has arrived. Many Georgians may want to add "lady beetles on the ceilings" to that list.

Each winter, more and more Asian lady beetles, often called ladybugs, travel into homes seeking shelter from the cold. They may be beneficial in the garden, but they aren't typically welcome indoors.

Asian lady beetles are one of several species in Georgia. But they're the only one here with the annoying houseguest habit, said Kris Braman, a University of Georgia entomologist.

"Lady beetles are the universal feel-good bugs, so it's unfortunate a few are becoming pests," said Braman, a researcher with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Braman's work focuses on integrated pest management. This pest-control method encourages the use of beneficial insects such as lady beetles.

"Lady beetles feed on aphids, an insect that can cause major damage to pecan trees, crape myrtles, roses and many other plants," she said. "When they're around to eat the aphids, homeowners may not need to spray insecticides."

Lately, UGA Cooperative Extension county agents are getting a lot of calls statewide about lady beetles. People aren't calling to praise them for their aphid-eating skills.

"Homeowners should actually show these lady beetles some gratitude," said Vicki Owen, a UGA Extension agent in Crawford County. "When you find where they're coming into your home, you're finding somewhere that cold air can come in, too."

Owen recommends sweeping up the beetles and physically returning them outdoors.

"During this temperature transition stage, they're just looking for a place to stay for the winter," she said. "We've never radio-collared them to be sure, but chances are, the ones you sweep out aren't going to come back in."

If you do resort to physical removal, Braman urges you to be careful. Lady beetles do have a defense mechanism.

"They can release yellow hemolymph, which is reflexive bleeding from their joints," she said. "It's a defensive response for you that can result in orange stains on your walls and furniture."

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.