woke up this morning with a monster on my nose! I was careful not to mention it to my wife because she doesn’t need too much inducement right now to lay a baseball bat across my nose, and swatting a ladybug would be as good an excuse as any.
This spring has produced more ladybugs than any year I can remember. Maybe it was the warm weather or the recent rain. They are not a major problem. In fact, they are kind of cute. The problem is that there are just too darn many of them. I have seen schools (flocks? herds?) of them climbing the walls, covering the screens on the doors, on the floor and on the furniture.
I saw a couple of them on my cat the other day. My cat didn’t mind. Maybe he thought they were his pets. I even found a few of them in my head the other morning. I think they came out smelling better after an application of Head and Shoulders shampoo.
I know they are ladybugs because they have spots on their back. I also found out that they are really called lady beetles. Since the Japanese beetle destroyed any and all reputations of all beetles around our house, the title ladybug fit better. I also found out that this ladybug epidemic is comparatively new. Apparently they were imported from Far East Asia some time in the last 10 years and they have made themselves right at home. If they were from the Middle East part of Asia I doubt they would be quite so friendly.
What’s odd about this invasion of ladybugs is that people, for the most part, aren’t the least bit bothered by it. They see these ladybugs as quite benign.
They don’t bite, or at least I don’t think they do. They don’t attack furniture or fabric or the house frame. They don’t sting or carry diseases. They don’t feed on people and the only problem I can see with them is they leave a smear when they get squashed and a faintly rotten smell. But then, as my wife tells me, so would I. These little pests are not only found in the United States. It seems everybody around the world has them and shares a similarly benign opinion of them. The French call them les betes du bon Dieu, or creatures of the good God, and les vaches del la Vierge, or cows of the Virgin. Which, as in all things French, sounds much more poetic in the actual French language, and upon translation makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Germans aren’t much help either. They call them Marienkafer or Mary’s beetles, and, like the French, can’t tell us why. And we always thought the Europeans were more sophisticated than us.
It turns out that ladybugs belong to the beetle family Coccinellidae, which is Latin for “little sphere,” and makes a whole lot more sense to me. There are around 4,000 species found worldwide and are identified by the pattern of spots on their elytra which is the official name for their flight wing covers. I learned all of this while I wandered around my house with a copy of the Encyclopedia Americana in one hand while I studied the ladybugs on our walls. Most of them had between four and 14 dots on their wings. Some had as little as two. I found out that some ladybugs have white heads and some have black heads. By the way, the white headed bugs had black spots while the black headed bugs had white spots. I also found out that most ladybugs do not like being stared at with a magnifying glass.
After a few minutes they would lift off the wall and I swear some of them went for my eyes. Obviously they don’t want us to know too much about them. Maybe they aren’t quite as benign as they are supposed to be. Maybe they have been deposited as alien larvae to take over our plant. Maybe one day we’ll wake up with ladybugs up to our eaves and then it’ll be too late. I even saw a couple of them with patterns that reminded me of smiley faces and those foolish internet symbols that people use in their chat rooms. The ones that show smiles and winks, or frowns or other symbols that one has to be under 18 to understand. This only fueled my suspicion that these bugs aren’t as innocent as they appear to be, that they are actually communicating in a form of code with a superior intelligence and that superior intelligence isn’t us.
I also found out that ladybugs have different colors. Some are deep orange and easily visible. Others are colorless, transparent and almost invisible to the naked eye so that no matter how many we think we’re looking at there are actually more than twice that amount. I also found out that ladybugs do not always look like ladybugs. They undergo a complete and pretty scary metamorphosis with a distinct egg, larval, pupal, and adult stage. The larvae of ladybugs are real scary looking, shaped kind of like an alligator and covered with bumps and spines. I think I may have to start using something a little stronger than Head and Shoulders shampoo.
The appetite of ladybugs is also quite remarkable. Some can consume as many as 75 aphids a day. One larvae may eat up to 350 aphids during its life span. I didn’t know that I had that many aphids in my house either. I didn’t know that I had any aphids in my house and now I found myself wandering around with a magnifying glass looking for those little buggers. I also suspect that ladybugs don’t have that bad of a taste. Every morning when I eat my cereal I often crunch on something that simply does not belong in Wheaties. Strangely, they are not in the least bit attractive as a food substitute to birds, which seem to eat just about every other bug in the cosmos. Their coloring warns birds that they would not make a tasty meal. But then, birds aren’t trying them with milk and sugar.
I also learned that ladybugs will play dead when threatened, which I recognize as a sign of intelligence because I’ve done the same when threatened by my wife and daughter. I read that the best way to control the spread of ladybugs was to bring in predator ladybugs. The California citrus crop was once saved by predator ladybugs brought in from Australia to eat lesser ladybugs but they have all kinds of scary bugs in Australia and I don’t think we should be inviting them over here. Having learned all that I cared to learn about ladybugs I decided to call it a night and watch the rest of the Red Sox game on television.
As I lay on the couch I noticed a couple of my ladybug friends relaxing on my stomach. I squinted at them through my glasses and I’m pretty sure they were sitting on pieces of lint in the shape of beach chairs.
I guess this particular war is over, I’ve already been colonized and I didn’t even know it!
So you think those ladybugs are harmless? by J. G. Fabiano
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: email@example.com