Fly Away Home

I don’t know about the rest of the country — or even the rest of Virginia — but the part of the Piedmont I live in has been suffering from a plague of ladybugs for at least the past 25 years.

The first time they came to my attention was in the fall of 1994, which was also the worst year of infestation. The little bastards would get in through the tiniest gaps around windows and doors, and then buzz around the house, forming large clumps in the corners where two walls meet the ceiling. I remember at one point seeing a mass of ladybugs as big as a ping-pong ball in one corner. They all eventually found their way up here to the Eyrie, the highest point in the house. They also seem to prefer to enter through the south window here, which is bright and warm during the day. They make their way through tiny cracks around (or in) the frame, then buzz all around the window, and spread to the rest of the room. When there are a lot of them, I have to cover my coffee cup when I’m not sipping from it, because they have a habit of dropping into it and drowning. If I then sip from the cup without looking first, I get an unpleasant surprise — they taste NASTY.

Back in 1994 I resorted to keeping the vacuum cleaner up here in order to deal with the ladybugs. I scrounged around and found all the lengths of pipe extensions we had for it, as well as a four-foot flexible hose. The straight, rigid section I put together was about eight feet long, allowing me to reach almost the entire room while standing in the middle of the floor. Some days I would vacuum up several hundred of them in several passes through the room. I learned to appreciate the satisfying thwip each bug made when it was sucked into the narrow aperture in the outermost attachment at the end of the pipe.

When I was done with a vacuuming session, I put a piece of duct tape over the end of the pipe to keep the prisoners from escaping. I found out early in the game that if I didn’t do that, eventually some of the little demons would make their way out of the pipe and back into the house.

1995 was also bad, but not as bad as 1994. Since then there have been some really bad years, and some where there were almost no ladybugs. But there have been no years in which the annoying creatures were entirely absent.

The period of their annual infestation seems to have gradually moved to later in the season. They used to be here from September until about December, with almost none after New Year’s. Now the peak is generally from January to March. They’re pretty bad this year, which is why I’m writing about them. I sucked up a lot of them yesterday, but many more have come in today.

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These aren’t the normal ladybugs that we were used to before 1994. They’re not bright red, like the ladybugs of my childhood — in fact, they may have displaced the original population, for all I know. They’re kind of dull brown, and not at all attractive.

They’re also aggressive, and will occasionally bite if they land on your skin. They seem to prefer fair Nordic types, and tend to bite them more often. But I’ve been bitten by them a few times — a sudden sharp stinging feeling, followed by itching.

I’ve been told that these new updated ladybugs were introduced into the local ecology by the state department of agriculture, to control the bark beetles. Timber companies have invested in large tracts of pine forests in this area, and the bark beetles are a serious problem for them. I assume they lobbied in Richmond for the ladybug solution.

After I heard about the ladybug project, I realized that I had seen one of the first drops of the bugs back in 1989. The future Baron and I were out for a ride in Nelson County, and we stopped when we saw a helicopter operation in a field next to the road. We watched the helicopter take off, and then a cloud of something was released from its cargo bay into the air above us. Five years later, when the bugs hit and someone told me about their origins, I put two and two together and deduced that the fB and I had seen the first wave of the buggers being released into the local environment.

Now they are permanent residents here, and a permanent nuisance. I don’t suppose that our being plagued with the damned things carries much weight when balanced against the need to harvest enough pine trees to print the Congressional Record and The Washington Post. So we have no choice but to endure them.

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A final note: Typing the word “ladybug” reminded me that what we colonials call “ladybugs” are known as “ladybirds” in England. Or at least they were in the 1960s, when I lived there.

13 thoughts on “Fly Away Home

  1. Here in the Midwest they are referred to as Asian Beetles. They look like Lady Bugs but upon inspection you will note that the spots are arranged differently on these critters. They are used here in Illinois to eat the aphids which attack soy beans. They try to move indoors in the Winter to hibernate. They do not eat or lay eggs indoors. They will even try to get under wallpaper to hibernate. Driving down a country road during bean harvest, it sounds like your car is being pelted by frozen rain or small hail stones as they flee the combines picking the soy beans. If we somehow got rid of them all, the farmers would just release more of them. They also smell bad if you squish them.

    • Thank you.

      Over the last ten years, as I became involved in British affairs again after a gap of thirty years, and returned to the UK a few times, I noticed that a lot of slang and idioms have changed. There seemed to be more borrowed Americanisms than there were when I lived there. So I wasn’t sure whether “ladybird” had been supplanted since I came home in the early ’70s.

      • You get a British ladybird on your finger and you say “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children are gone”- they then run to the tip of your finger and away they fly.
        We also have these bigger uglier invaders. They eat the young of our native ladybirds.

      • Indeed. The one that bugs me (sorry!) is “train station”. It’s a bloody railway station! (or just “station”; bus and coach* ones are differentiated).

        Do I qualify for my “grumpy old man” award yet?

        *In the UK, buses are local; long distance services are “coaches”, like the old stagecoaches, I suppose.

      • PS Not far from me is the ancient London Borough of Southwark (pronounced “Sutherk”). It reeks of history; the first grave discovered of a female Roman gladiator is there, and the site of Shakespeare’s “Globe”. In Borough High Street are the site of the debtors’ prison, the Marshalsea, mentioned in “Little Dorrit”(Dickens’ father was imprisoned there); an original C17th coaching inn; the site of John Harvard’s (as in the university) home; and the site of the Tabard Inn, from which Chaucer’s pilgrims set out for Canterbury.

  2. And so it often is “well-intentioned” imports: the starling, the English sparrow in North America; the rabbit in Australia; you might even choose to add the European to North America. The intruder muscles out the native species and gradually becomes the “new norm”. Now why does this remind me of immigration policy?

    • yes, jlh.
      this morning,I was surprised by an article about invasive species here in Germany.That ladybird is often confused with the coccinella septempunctata( 7 dots) a endemic species. And even the gray squirrel is endangering the local red variety, much smaller. Canada geese leave their huge droppings on my favorite greens( why not in their pools?), but more uncomforting is the two-legged invasive species that scientists might call islamopithecus orientalis. Most people do not realize the devastating effects of those.I then remind them: they complain the decay of inner city life and losses in the print media. Is it any wonder when 20% of the population does not have our dresscode and eating- out habits? Or they don’ t read german papers for being illiterate and couldn’t care less?

  3. I live in Kent (the garden of England) UK and we have also been invaded by these bugs (I hesitate to use the word ‘lady’). Last year was particularly bad and they nested under one of our beds and infested our shed. I vacuumed them up – they really stunk in the old hoover I used in the shed and didn’t empty straight away. I thought at the time that they are decimating the lovely traditional ladybirds and how the same thing happened with grey squirrels replacing the red ones. Now the same seems to be happening with human replacement. I need a bigger hoover to vacuum all these nasty big bugs up.

    • Introducing non-native species is rarely a good idea (and I’m not referring to humans); Australia has particularly suffered.

      Re Grey (Gray?) Squirrels: I wasn’t aware they’d been introduced to Continental Europe, herb. Here in the UK, they’ve driven the red ones to the farthest reaches; not through aggression, but because they carry a virus to which they have immunity, but the red ones don’t.

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