Wednesday, January 15, 2014


"Ladybug, ladybug,
fly away home,
Your house is on fire
and your children all gone,
All except one
And that's little Ann,
And she has crept under
The warming pan."
- Nursery Rhyme from Mother Goose -

We never know what critters will take up residence in our cottage on The Mountain while we're away for the winter. When we returned a few days ago to take care of business in Sewanee, Tennessee, we found the floor of the garage littered with dead ladybugs—dozens of them laid out on the concrete, looking as though they had been in a great battle for space in a warm place. I swept them out of the garage and into the woods while the leafless trees observed my hygienic antics, looking like Millay's "bare ruined choirs," a fitting requiem for the little army of bugs. In a misty cold rain, I buried them under a pile of wet leaves, promising to mention them at Eucharist in the chapel at St. Mary's this morning... at least silently.

However, following the service, at breakfast in the refectory, I interrupted a serious conversation about St. Francis to initiate the "ladybug symposium." According to the Sisters of St. Mary and Father Jim, the ladybugs had invaded the stone walls of the Convent this month, somewhat like the plague of locusts of the Old Testament. One day they almost covered an outer wall, seeking warmth in any cracks they could find in the gray stone (they're attracted to buildings that are light colored). Sister Madeleine Mary, who has the same penchant for tidying up as I do, hooks up the vacuum daily to clear the convent of these critters who seem to die once they get indoors. She reported that one day the air became so dense with them that an oblate who is a daily walker had to stay indoors because a group of the bugs flew into her hair and tried to party in her white tresses.

Fr. Jim says these ladybugs are Asian bugs and are relative newcomers to the U.S.  Harmonia axyridis are unwanted guests that crawl around on window sills and walls, nest in attics and, in his words, "absolutely stink." Actually, the first populations of these pests were discovered in Louisiana, and there's some evidence that they're illegal immigrants that arrived in New Orleans on a freighter from Japan. Their native habitats in Asia are trees in forests and orchards, and they consume hundreds of aphids daily. The ladybugs or lady cows, or golden bugs, as they're variously called, don't have many enemies except for small wasps and flies. To defend themselves, the warrior bugs secrete a stinky yellow fluid from their legs when some critter disturbs them, and most of them die at sub-freezing temps, which would account for those that perished in my garage.

These Asian ladybugs don't harm anyone, although Fr. Jim says that they can bite. They don't reproduce indoors and don't eat wood, food, or clothing. I found a small army of the dead critters by the side of a bed in a room, and it appears they died before climbing under the covers. There's no solution to keeping out these ladybug invasions, and I'm told that another wave of them will probably arrive in the Spring.

I console myself with a bit of trivia: in Turkey and other countries, the arrival of ladybugs signals the granting of a wish or good luck. At least we didn't discover skunks in the crawl space as we did last year when we returned to our cottage in the Spring!

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