It’s tempting to think that in order to have things to write about, I need to leave the house and go in search of interesting subjects. Other times I find that all I need to do is stay home and have a look behind the curtains. Now, whether anyone really wants to read about what I found there is a fair question, but I guess I’ll just plough ahead and let you decide when to stop reading.
We won’t be the only people to have noticed that the population of ladybugs has gotten positively biblical this winter. When the nights start to get cool, the rooms on the south and west sides of our old, anything-but-hermetically-sealed house in rural West Feliciana become holiday destination number-one for hordes of lady beetles all looking for a nice, warm spot to spend the winter. Not your mild-mannered domestic lady beetles, these are Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis)—a species introduced to the U.S. in the 1980s that looks pretty much like its local cousin but has various un-ladylike habits. These include descending by the thousands on any place white on the outside and warm on the inside, snuggling up in huge accumulations behind picture frames and in the folds of curtains, leaving trails of sticky yellow substance everywhere they go, reeking of rotten fruit when disturbed, and occasionally biting—if not exactly the hand that feeds them, then at least the hand that pays the heating bill. Once inside, not content to lurk in the curtains, they blunder aimlessly about, settling into your sock drawer, falling into cups of coffee, and dying in drifts on the windowsills.
This annual invasion isn’t new; first time I remember ladybugs showing up in the house our daughter, Mathilde, was just crawling, which would have made it 2003. The year stays with me because, in the manner of most crawlers, Mathilde would investigate anything she encountered on the floor by putting it in her mouth. So as often as not you’d scoop her up and she’d give you a toothless grin through a mouthful of masticated lady beetles and a gust of buggy breath. I can confirm that they’re not poisonous.
On the spectrum of insect invasions, I suppose it could be worse. Having your house infested with bumbling ladybugs is better than sharing it with tarantulas or flesh-eating wasps or the locusts that gave Pharaoh such a lot to think about. But in their sheer numbers they can get pretty overwhelming, and we’ve filled up many a vacuum-cleaner bag trying to stay ahead of the multitude. So I was encouraged when a lady in the bank said she’d heard that lady beetles can’t stand the smell of lemon-scented Pine Sol, and that if I were to sponge the stuff liberally around our doors and windows, they would tend to stay away.
On a Saturday morning there’s nothing like looking down into your bowl of breakfast cereal to find three or four ladybugs paddling about in the milk to send you scurrying to the hardware store for lemon-scented home remedies, which is how, by Saturday afternoon, I found myself up a ladder with a vacuum cleaner in one hand and an industrial-sized bottle of Pine Sol in the other. Hours later, having dispensed with every lady beetle within reach and high as a kite on lemon-scented Pine Sol fumes, I’d segued straight into a scorched earth decluttering campaign from which no defunct toy, vintage golf club, obsolete electronic device, or outgrown set of shoes was safe. In the process I’d discovered some terrific photos we’d forgotten about, an antique pocket watch long assumed lost, and a desiccated mouse that explained why our son’s bedroom had been smelling like a Limburger cheese factory.
With the junk gone, the house seems larger and lighter. It certainly smells lemonier, and I’m pleased to report that the population of Asian lady bugs, if not entirely gone, is much reduced. Now, if only the same thing would work on the plague of June bugs set to show up in a month or two …