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Blane Klemek column: Asian lady beetles here to stay

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Last weekend as I sat on my deck looking out at the lake and backyard, a lady beetle landed on my arm.

I was instantly reminded of a time several years ago during the early fall when the orange, black-spotted beetles descended onto the side of my house by the millions. Later, the detestable little insects found their way inside my house - everywhere!

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A month or so later, unbeknownst to me, thousands of them had somehow found their way into my propane furnace in order to spend the winter. When the burners of the furnace eventually began igniting with increased frequency because of colder temperatures in the house, a small fire developed inside the furnace when the hibernating insects burst into flames. As a result of the insects and subsequent fire, my furnace was completely destroyed.

Ladybugs, or ladybird beetles or lady beetles, as they are also called, are not bugs at all. In fact, they're beetles (Bugs have piercing and sucking mouth parts; beetles do not). Lady beetles belong to the large order Coleoptera and are members of the family Coccinellidae. And, believe it or not, the species of lady beetle that's showing up as, perhaps, unwanted houseguests at your home, are not even native to this country.

Multicolored Asian lady beetles, as their name suggests, are originally from Russia, Korea, China, Japan and other places in the Orient. They found their way to this continent by accident and through intentional releases.

Lady beetles are well known as combatants of certain insect pests such as aphids and scale insects. So, whether native or non-native, lady beetles are thought of as friends of humankind.

Indeed, lady beetles, even when they do find their way into our homes, are not harmful in any way. Save for just seeing them crawling on our walls and ceilings, the beetles do not typically bite, do not feed on anything in the household, won't infest food and won't damage furnishings.

Some people report that lady beetles will bite. The fact is that the beetles are not acting aggressively; rather, they are merely examining something unfamiliar to them or seeking moisture. Think of this behavior as something akin to children putting something inside their mouths in order to "identify" it.

The multicolored lady beetle is the only species, of which there are many, many different kinds throughout the world, that have the unusual over-wintering behavior that we are observing right now. Most other lady beetles seek shelter individually, but the Asian variety enjoys the company of thousands of its own kind.

In late fall, Asian lady beetles congregate in countless numbers as they search for suitable sites. Light-colored houses and other buildings, preferably homes that are well lit by the sun, are targeted by their moving masses.

What the lady beetles are trying to find are ways to get inside buildings. Cracks, crevices, under window panes, door jams - any place they can squeeze into that's out of the elements and is safe and warm.

Once there, and as soon as cold weather sets in, the beetles remain dormant for several months, not feeding or moving much at all. Once temperatures rise again, come springtime, the beetles become active and they either find their way outdoors where they came from, or wind up inside your house, where you don't necessarily want them. And to some people, that's the overriding problem: what to do with the little buggers, whether they're inside or outside one's home.

I'm not a proponent of chemicals, though spraying is an effective means to kill unwanted beetles. Other measures are sticky tape, like fly paper or even strips of exceptionally adhesive tape, like duct tape or carpet tape. Still, another mechanical means of removal involves a very common household tool: the vacuum cleaner. Sucking up the beetles and then releasing them outdoors works well.

Nuisances aside, multicolored Asian lady beetles are largely viewed as beneficial to humankind. As already mentioned, lady beetles - all species - feed on aphids and scale insects, which in turn are damaging to orchard trees and other agricultural, garden and forest plants. Lady beetles help to naturally control these insects, thus reducing the need for pesticides to combat undesirable pests.

For now, the introduced and non-native Asian lady beetle is very abundant and a cause of concern for some people. Yet for most of us, the colossal annual congregation is an awesome spectacle worth observing. Even so, their numbers will cause no real harm. In time, the population may decrease in size as natural predators, parasites and diseases find a way to control this non-native lady beetle. But, they are definitely here to stay.

Nature is full of wonderment. The joy of seeing the annual spring and autumn migration of birds and to the blooming of prairie and woodland flowers throughout the growing season, there's always something to observe and appreciate - even non-native ladybugs - as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com

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