The sun is weak. The sky is overcast. The air is cold. Spring is a lifetime away. Anything that reminds me of life and gardens is welcome.
One thing that prompts much-needed visions of sunshine and roses are the hordes of ladybugs who invade my house. I know. I know. They stink and they make little black spots on the wall and they get into everything. All true. But I love them.
On late fall afternoons, they fly against the warm stones on the south side of my house and make their way into every chink and crack. Before long, I have a couple million crawling on the windows. My upstairs sunroom is their favorite haunt, though the thrill-seekers among them will attempt a hazardous existence in the kitchen. Occasionally one will come to a bitter (in more ways than one) end in a cup of tea or on the hot stovetop.
The houseplants serve as their temporary refuge and saucers of water on the windowsills keep them hydrated. Most of them find a cozy corner and nap, but on sunny days they mob the window, looking for spring.
A day will come in mid-March, when the sun shines in a particularly toasty manner, and I will open the upper panes of my windows, take out the screens, and let them go. They have perfect instincts and will pick exactly the right time to leave. The entire populace will disappear from my house in just a couple of days. I’ll clean up the bodies of the dead, add them to the compost, and plant my herbs. I see my role as benevolent facilitator, allowing them to winter with me and helping restore the next generation to the garden in spring. In return, I expect an aphid-free garden.
While many of my guests are of the Asian variety, I do have a few locals. All of them are welcome because all of them are A—alive and B—excellent eaters of nasty garden pests.
Say what you will, I like my ladybugs.
- The ladybug’s name comes from reference to the red color and the 7 spots on the European variety. Red symbolizes the Virgin Mary and the 7 spots her 7 sorrows. The legend goes that during the Middle Ages , crops dwindled in Eastern Europe and farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary to improve the situation. They noticed an influx of lady bugs and––bada bing bada bang ––the crops improved. So they called the little guys the Lady’s beetle and there ya go.
- Oh, btw,the ladybug is a beetle, not a bug.
- When threatened, ladybugs bleed the nasty smelling stuff from their knees. To me, they smell a little like Neem oil and my cats get the exact same expressions when they sniff a ladybug as they do when I douse them with Neem.
- In the 1800s, ladybugs saved the orange and lemon industry in California by devouring the hordes of Australian scale insects who were in turn devouring the oranges and lemons.
- All of the 5000 species of ladybug have powerful appetites, but the hippodamia convergens is the best for eating the larvae of harmful insects. You can recognize these ladybugs by the two white dashes that are on the back of its body above the hard wing casings.
- The squash beetle and the Mexican bean beetle are two species who prefer plants to larvae and can be harmful in the garden.
- Their lurid colors of red, yellow, pink, and orange along with the spots are critter code for “If you eat me, you will be puking your guts up within ten seconds.”