To the list of chores assembled by homeowners in preparation for winter has been added a new item: Prepare for the onslaught of the Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetle, which has proliferated in such numbers that it now ranks with the mosquito on many Minnesotans' list of most-hated insects.
Count Lee and Linda Martin among the people who dislike the critters. Their house on Upper Gull Lake has light-colored stone trim that the beetles find attractive because of its resemblance to the cliffs in which they hibernate in Asia. One day last fall Linda opened a window and was horrified by what she found.
"They were packed in so tight around the frame that I couldn't sweep them out," she said. "I went and got the blower but that didn't work either. Finally I got a screwdriver and dug them out. I filled a five-gallon bucket half full."
The Martins' troubles didn't end there. Christmas brought a surprise not in keeping with the holiday spirit.
Bret Strange applied insecticide to the exterior of a house on North Long Lake. The application won't stop lady beetles from landing on the house, but it will kill them once they do.Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer
"They got in the house somehow and started hatching," Linda said. "We have a 16-foot ceiling in our great room and there was a ball of beetles about 8 inches in diameter at the top, where it's warmer. When the sun came through the window they would fly around. It was nothing to get three or four hundred in a day."
The Martins hired an exterminator to spray their house inside and outside. Now their house gets sprayed twice a year, once in spring and again in fall.
"It's helped a lot," Linda said. "But I still could open any window right now and find them."
A study published by Ohio State University reported Asian Lady Beetles were intentionally released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an effort to control tree-destroying aphids. Releases took place in nine states from Maine to Louisiana. The program was discontinued because it was believed that the beetles were not surviving.
"Hence, there is some controversy regarding the origins of this non-native species," the report says.
Spraying insecticide under awnings is key to controlling lady beetles. This is especially true of newer awnings, which have small holes in the surface that the beetles crawl into. Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer
However the beetles got here, they might be here to stay. It isn't known if a normal Minnesota winter would knock them out because we haven't had one since the beetles first showed up here about four years ago.
Wrote Joe Kovach, who contributed to the Ohio State study: "The good news is they're not like gypsy moths that destroy vegetation. They eat 36 different kinds of aphids."
The only other good news comes from Advanced Pest Control's Bret Strange, who said the boom in the lady beetles has increased his business during an otherwise slow season.
"Used to be I wasn't that busy in the fall," said Strange, who operates from his home in Nisswa. "Now I can't keep up. I didn't get home last night until after nine. I'm getting burned out. Next year I'm probably going to hire somebody full-time."
Strange said Plunkett's Pest Control, based in the Twin Cities, ran an advertisement for the extermination of lady beetles and got 900 calls in one day, and that a new exterminator in Wisconsin got into the business just to control lady beetles
Bret Strange of Advanced Pest Control prepared a batch of insecticide that will be used to kill Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetles, whose population in central Minnesota has increased dramatically in recent years. Brainerd Dispatch/Vince Meyer
The pesticide used to exterminate lady beetles is synthetic pyrethroid, also used to kill other common pests such as cluster flies, spiders and boxelder bugs. It won't stop the beetles from landing on your house, but when they contact the pesticide they die. If they're already in your house it might be too late, Strange said, for they might have found conditions suitable for reproducing.
"I read about a house in Oregon that had lady beetles more than a foot deep in the attic," Strange said. "We haven't had anything like that around here."
But the number of beetles has increased in recent years, a fact not lost on the Martins.
"When you step outside in the fall you get covered," Linda said. "Then you have to go in the garage and brush off before you go back inside. It's hard to believe how thick they can get."
In the meantime, researchers are trying to develop natural products that will repel the beetles and prevent them from congregating on buildings, an attempt at a solution that more than a few homeowners hope will succeed.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 855-5862.
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