Finding a ladybug in the garden is a joy. They eat aphids that suck the juices out of kale, broccoli and roses. In the garden, ladybugs are beautiful. But in winter months, when they come into the house – in the hundreds – things change. They are beetles. And a little creepy.
In wet, cold months, insects seek shelter. A fallen tree, a large rock or an embankment would be a natural choice. Some choose our houses. These uninvited guests can be quite a nuisance in the laundry, the kitchen and even in bed. They are also fascinating and worth knowing more about. Here are three that we’ve connected with this season:
Ladybugs. They gather in the southwest-facing windows, squeezing through the warping wood frame. Cold mornings, they cluster motionless. Warm afternoons they explode into flying darts. We observe these visitors, comparing colors and counting the spots on their shield wings. The hues vary: gradients of red, orange to yellow. Most have 17 spots – eight on each side and one near the head that blends together into a larger mark. We are a bit disappointed to discover that they are Asian lady beetles (Harmonixa axyridis) – not native to California. They are also known as Harlequin Ladybirds for their many color forms, including a variation that is all black with two red spots.
Black ants. A few days of rain, a cold spell that lasts a week and the black ants from under rocks in the garden, find the kitchen. Of the several species of ants in our area that invade homes, we live with Argentine ants (Linepithma humile) – a non-native species from South America. We watch the ant antennae of the non-reproductive female workers smelling out the scent trail left by the scouts. They’re bringing food back to their nest of queens, reproductive males and pupae.
Boxelder bugs. Black with red outlines along their wings, western boxelder bugs (Boisea rubrolineata) also find winter shelter inside homes. Native to California, they feed on the seeds of local big-leaf maple trees. Of the insect order Hemiptera, meaning “half wing”, they resemble their stink bug relatives. The first pair of wings (half leathery, half membranous) fold flat over their back forming a triangular pattern characteristic of the order. Unlike the cousin stink bugs, the boxelder bugs do not have scent glands. Lucky for us!
Seasonally sharing space with these 6-legged critters certainly makes us appreciate when they are back in the wild!