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Ladybug's Evil Twin



Everyone knows the sweet little insects known as ladybugs, especially with the rise of the popular cartoon, Miraculous Ladybug. These harmless bugs symbolize good luck and love, and are usually put on hair clips or little kids’ clothing.


However, when was the last time you actually saw one in real life? Personally, I haven’t seen one since I was a child, and even so, they didn’t come about often. Plenty of other people can testify that ladybugs have now become a rarity.


Or maybe you do recall seeing one recently, but it was clustered up in a corner of your house excreting a gross, putrid liquid that stained your clothes, or bit your hand when you tried to pick it up. It’s very likely that what you encountered wasn’t a ladybug at all, but instead was its evil twin from across the seas: the Asian lady beetle.


You’re probably wondering, “What’s the difference? What are these ladybug imposters and why are they evil?”


Well, the ladybugs we have come to know and love are docile and friendly. However, Asian lady beetles, ladybugs’ villainous counterparts, are not, and they weren’t even supposed to be here in the first place.



 

Origins


As you probably already have guessed from the name, Asian lady beetles, or Harmonia axyridis, originate from Asia, specifically China, Korea, Japan, and even Russia. After they invaded America and some parts of Canada, mainly in places with a lot of forest and orchards, they began to unleash chaos. There are many theories on how they were brought to America. One of the most popular and likely theories is that they were released into the wild on purpose in order to control pests since they were more efficient than ladybugs. Now they themselves have become pests.


But how could these seemingly innocent insects that were brought here to help us end up being known as the ladybug’s evil twin? Well, for one, they’re just mean. Asian lady beetles are known to bite, and their bites can hurt. They’re tough enough to break skin and cause short-lived discomfort. They also produce a smelly, yellow liquid from their joints as a protection mechanism, and exposure to it may cause allergic reactions, and even asthma attacks. We aren’t even safe from them when they die, as exposure to dead Asian lady beetles can have the same adverse effects. Plus, they can stain your clothes.


They’re also really annoying. Lady beetles love to cluster up in corners and cracks to stay warm in the winter, and what better place to do that than in our humble abodes? So they make themselves comfortable in our houses, and don’t even pay rent! Who doesn’t love having hundreds of putrid, yellow hemolymph-producing, allergy and asthma-inducing, biting beetles residing in the corner of your bedroom?


Environmental Impacts


You might be thinking, “Asian lady beetles may be aggressive freeloaders, but so is like half of the human population, so why are they such a problem?” However, not only are they a nuisance, they are murderers too. Asian lady beetles will feast on our crops once they run out of aphids, their preferred food source, to eat, which destroys our crops. These include apples, grapes, raspberries, and pumpkins. However, to their credit, lady beetles usually don’t feast on crops unless they are already slightly damaged by a pathogen or another creature. Apples are the only fruit that they eat without it already being punctured by something else. With grapes, their yellow fluid can leave a weird taste on the grapes the lady beetle lands on, making the wine made from them taste odd.


Not only do they kill crops, but they are a huge factor in the decline of ladybugs. Asian lady beetles are slowly replacing ladybugs, preying on their larvae and pupae and taking over their jobs as pest control. Ladybugs are much more docile and much less annoying than their foreign cousins, while Asian lady beetles don’t have many natural predators, so they are much harder to get rid of and control.


The problem is that since lady beetles have basically replaced ladybugs, and lady beetles are so hard to control, getting rid of them can be quite difficult. If we get rid of lady beetles, then we will have no one to eat the pests that damage our plants, since lady beetles are also killing off the other insect that also shares this job.


Humans decided that the sweet and docile ladybug didn’t do its job well enough, so they invited a pest to America, and eventually weren’t able to control them. Now our ecosystem is permanently altered, and the bugs that were doing their job just fine, known to bring good luck and love, are slowly being exterminated by the disgusting insects we brought over. Unless we are able to exterminate all of the lady beetles and breed back all of the ladybugs, chances are that ladybugs will be forever replaced by the Asian lady beetle in the near future.


Identification

This here is an Asian lady beetle. Notice how its head is more white than black, its body more orange than bright red, its ovular shape, and its abundance of spots.


There are ways to distinguish an Asian lady beetle from a ladybug, since their imitation isn’t perfect. For one, Asian lady beetles are slightly larger than ladybugs, with them being 7mm long and 5.5mm wide, having more of an oval shape while ladybugs are more circular.


Ladybugs also have a more vibrant red color, but lady beetles’ color can vary from red to orange, and can even be tan. Pay attention to the spots as well. Ladybugs have a distinct pattern with exactly 7 spots, one large spot at the top of its shell, and then three on each wing that form a pattern similar to the holes of a bowling ball. One on top, then two on the bottom. Lady beetles either have more than 7 spots or no spots at all.


Asian lady beetles also have a white M shape on the top of their heads, but ladybugs have black heads with only two white dots on the sides that look like eyes. Overall, ladybugs are just much cuter to look at.



This is a ladybug. Its color is a much darker, vibrant red and it has 7 spots, with one large one on the top of the shell. Its body is more circular and its head is mostly black, with only two white dots on the sides.


Extermination


If you’re ever unfortunate enough to have a lady beetle invasion, there are some ways to get rid of them.


Vacuuming:

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to rid yourself of these insects is to simply use a vacuum and suck them up. You could use a broom to do the job, but that will likely result in yellow streaks on your floors, walls, ceilings, and broom. You can decide to release them after, or kill them. The second option is recommended.


Sealing entry points:

The best way of getting rid of Asian lady beetles is to prevent them from coming into your house in the first place. Mend any cracks in your windows, and seal spaces in your doors and cracks outside your house with caulk or silicone. Although this won’t get rid of the Asian lady beetles, it will prevent them from entering your house in the first place.


Pesticides:

To exterminate bugs from the outside of your home, pesticides are the best way. Try to look for pesticides with the following ingredients:

  • bifenthrin

  • cyfluthrin

  • cypermethrin

  • deltamethrin

  • permethrin

You can also hire a professional exterminator. This may not be a permanent solution, but it will rid you of the bugs for a while.



 

Recap


Asian lady beetles were brought here to act as pest control because people thought they did the job more efficiently than ladybugs. Unfortunately, these angry little beetles took America by swarm, killing off our beloved ladybugs and infesting our homes with their yellow goo and a foul stench. Since they have been here for so long, they’ve now become an integral part of the ecosystem as they’ve caused the ladybug population to decrease dramatically, taking their place as the local pest control.


This lands us in a predicament since we can’t exactly kill them off because they protect our crops from aphids that destroy them. However, lady beetles also destroy our crops and hurt the ladybug population. Even if we do try to rid ourselves of the lady beetles and replenish the ladybug population, they’re so plentiful and so hard to control that such a feat would take years. At that point, ladybugs may already be a thing of the past.


So do we kill every Asian lady beetle we come across or do we let them take over? No one really knows what the best plan of action is, but if your home is infested with these insects, then it wouldn’t hurt to kill them off. And if you do miraculously find that round, bright red insect with 7 black spots and 2 white dots on its head, admire this rare cutie, be careful with it, make sure it’s safe, and make a wish before it flies away. You never know, it may be the last time you ever see one.


If you liked this blog and want to learn more about other invasive species, check out our Medium profile. Stay updated and active by following the Environmental Defense Initiative on Medium and all of our social media platforms!







Author: Ina Sabarre

Editor: Charlotte Wang

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