How to handle ladybugs

  • Rakonjac Srdjan—Getty Images/iStockphoto

For the Gazette
Published: 10/22/2018 10:19:44 AM

Q: The ladybugs have arrived! Found them in our house last week. Where did they come from and why?  Will they do any good over winter in my garden? What insecticide do I use? Do I need a new vacuum to get rid of them, and if I empty the vacuum bag outdoors, will they have suffocated? — J.O., Williamsburg

A: What a terrific bundle of questions, J.O.!  Ladybugs are the American term for the Coccinellidae family of cheerfully colored small beetles. You may also hear them called ladybirds, ladybird beetles or lady beetles. One can discern between ladybug species by the color and spot pattern on their outer shell.

Make sure what you have are indeed ladybugs and not Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis). The two look remarkably similar and are easily confused. Both are members of the Coccinellidae family. Asian lady beetles are slightly larger than ladybugs, have an “M” shaped white spot on the back of their head, have more white on their “cheeks” and have a coat color more orange than red.

Knowing which you have is important as ladybugs are good, while Asian lady beetles are a major homeowner nuisance. Ladybugs are harmless, live outdoors, control garden pests such as aphids and scale and are good for the environment. Asian lady beetles, however, are aggressive, sometimes bite, invade homes such as yours and leave behind an odor/yellow fluid. On the good side, they also eat aphids and scale. In fact, they were intentionally imported from Asia by the USDA in the mid-late 1900’s to help control these agricultural pests. Since then, though, they have spread and demonstrated their not-so-nice characteristics.

During Fall, Asian lady beetles come inside warm homes and buildings to hibernate over winter. They are attracted to illuminated surfaces, such as south facing windows. When startled, they secrete a stinky yellow liquid that can stain furniture, walls, and other surfaces. Some people have allergic reactions to them. Native ladybugs spend winter outside seeking warmth in mulch piles or hollow trees and logs.

The best prevention is to make sure your home is properly sealed. Check for cracks and spaces around windows, doors, pipes, siding or other places they might enter. Check your screens for tears or rips. If they are already in your home, such as in your case, please avoid using pesticides. Instead, use a vacuum or sticky tape. To avoid their odor and stain, do not swat at or squash them. If you wish to release them outside, place a handkerchief between the vacuum hose and the dust collection bag to act as a trap.  They will not suffocate in that time. That is a lot of information about a little insect. Hope this helps! Thank you for asking.

Have a gardening dilemma? Please send your questions, along with your name/initials and community, to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association at One question will be selected and answered per week.

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