Fall ladybug lookalike infestation blamed on drought-free summer

Residents of Eastern Ontario hope they’ve seen an end to an invasion of ladybug lookalikes

Asian Ladybug, Harmony axyride, which looks a lot like a ladybug, spends its summer feeding on hundreds of soft insects, or aphids, in corn and soybean crops until harvest.

This is when the temperatures begin to drop, causing widespread panic in the beetle population which leads to their expulsion. This year, however, has been a hot summer for ladybugs.

“They had a good year, there was no drought and there were lots of aphids,” said Hume Douglas, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“At the end of this good year, they don’t want to die. They want to survive the winter by taking shelter.”

Fittingly, for an insect that has also been called “Halloween Beetle”, the ladybug can wear many costumes ranging from yellow to red to black, and can have anywhere from zero to 20 spots.

Hume said the only sure way to tell the insect from a ladybug is to look for a white “W” or “M” on the pronotum, the area on the insect’s back just behind the head.

The black ‘W’ or ‘M’ on the Asian ladybug’s white pronotum is a sure way to tell it apart from a ladybug. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Trying to absorb heat on surfaces

This month, orange clouds of Asian ladybugs clustered in their hundreds on white surfaces and windows in an attempt to soak up the unseasonable heat.

“It’s terribly bad,” said Natalie Rowe of Bee Meadow Animal Rescue Farm in Apple Hill, Ont., about an hour southeast of Ottawa.

At some point this month, a “snowstorm” of beetles brought the farmer back inside where she found orange bodies in the kettle and coffee maker.

“I was reading in bed last night, one climbing on my glasses and then the other in my teacup,” said Rowe, whose vacuum cleaner was his main weapon of defense during the siege.

Eastern Ontario farmer says fall of Asian lady beetles has been “spectacularly bad”

Natalie Rowe, owner of an animal rescue farm in Apple Hill, Ontario. describes a “snowstorm” of aphid-eating ladybug imposters in late September. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher Hume Douglas said conditions this year were optimal for pests.

At Julie Clement’s home in the community of Kars in rural southeast Ottawa, she had to “suck up hundreds of clear shadows from the last year.”

“They’re pests,” she said.

The beetle invasion prevented Julie Clément from taking a nap in her family’s new garden pavilion. (Stu Mills/CBC)

No disease or reproductive issues

On the plus side, insects do not carry disease and while they can cram into gaps behind walls, they will not breed in your home.

On the negative side, they can stink when treated inhospitably. Unwanted guests have a dreadful trick of defensively bleeding their hemolymph or vital blood, which can be mildly toxic and foul-smelling, and can stain.

“That’s how they can get away with crawling on plants and being bright orange in the middle of the day,” Douglas said.

Unlike ladybugs, the Asian ladybug also bites.

“They’re not terrible, but you can definitely smell it. It feels like a sting,” Rowe said.

Ladybugs need temperatures above 10°C to survive, which means they will soon disappear as quickly as they arrived.

Natalie Rowe of Bee Meadow Farm says a ‘snow storm’ of Asian ladybugs had made it difficult to get out. (Stu Mills/CBC)

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