New York State IPM Program

March 28, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Managing monsters: Ladybugs problematic for many this winter

Managing monsters: Ladybugs problematic for many this winter

Originally published on March 24, 2018 – Courtesy of Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County

Unlike for vampires, there are no silver bullets for Harmonia axyridis. But good screens certainly help.  Photo: John Flannery

Pest management used to be a lot simpler, and more effective. For those bothersome vampire problems you had your basic wooden stakes, cheap and readily available. The well-to-do could afford silver bullets, an elegant and tidier solution. And of course, garlic was the solution to prevent repeat infestations. These days many people are asking where to find teeny silver bullets for Asian multicolor lady-beetles, because they are a real problem this winter.

On sunny fall days, the Asian multicolored lady-beetle, Harmonia axyridis, often hangs out with its pals on west or south-facing walls. The insect may be beneficial for gardens and harmless to us, but as winter approaches, these insects quit swarming to seek shelter in outbuildings, wall cavities, firewood piles and other nooks and crannies. Eventually, some of them find their way inside our homes. I don’t know what the sanctioned collective noun is for a gathering of Harmonia axyridis, but it should be a drove, since they can be enough to drive you out of the house.

From what I can tell, the orange-and-black ladybug, darling of small children everywhere, first arrived in the U.S. — at our invitation — in about 1916, as a control for aphids on pecan trees and other crops. Adorable lady-beetles didn’t turn into ogres until the mid-1990s. There is evidence to suggest the current population might be a strain accidentally released at the Port of New Orleans in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Whatever their origin, these new lady-beetles are here to stay.

Asian multicolored lady-beetles don’t carry disease, damage structures, suck blood or sting, and they eat harmful agricultural pests. More importantly, they do not breed indoors. However, they stain, give off a foul odor when disturbed and will even pinch one’s skin on occasion. It’s their sheer numbers, though, amassing in corners of garages and porches, coating the insides of picture windows, which unnerves and bugs us.

Managing ladybugs, it turns out, can cut your heating bill. Caulking around windows, vents and where cable or other utilities come through the wall, and between the foundation and sill, will help immensely with lady-beetle control, and somewhat with reducing drafts.  Photo: Joellen Lampman

Managing ladybugs, it turns out, can cut your heating bill. They are looking for someplace rent-free and cozy to spend the winter, and as warm air leaks out here and there from your house, they follow it to its source and let themselves in. Caulking around windows, vents and where cable or other utilities come through the wall, and between the foundation and sill, will help immensely with lady-beetle control, and somewhat with reducing drafts. It is also helpful to ensure that door sweeps/thresholds are tight, and check for cracked seals around garage doors. Installing screens on attic vents and inspecting all window screens is in order as well.

It’s best to avoid swatting or crushing them because they will release a smelly, staining yellow defense fluid. For a variety of reasons including the ladybugs’ habit of seeking inaccessible areas, indoor pesticides are practically useless against them. Spraying inside is strongly discouraged. Instead, use a broom and dustpan to knock them down and then suck them up with a vacuum cleaner or shop-vac.

You can use a simple knee high stocking to ensure vacuumed lady-beetles don’t end up in the vacuum bag or canister and can be easily dealt with.  Photo: Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann

You can make a reusable “mini-bag” out of a knee-high nylon stocking inserted into the hose of a canister-type vacuum. Secure it on the outside with a rubber band and hang onto it as you clean up the bugs. Just remember to quickly empty it into a pail of soapy water (gas or kero is hazardous and unnecessary).

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to combat multicolored Asian lady-beetles once they are inside — we have to persevere and vacuum and sweep them out for now. Home improvements this summer will help prevent repeat bug visits. I have no doubt that it must be more satisfying to dispatch vampires in one easy step than to fight endless lady-beetles, but I would bet it is a lot more dangerous, too.

Contact Paul Hetzler of Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County at ph59@cornell.edu.

For more information on multicolored asian lady beetle, brown marmorated stink bugs, boxelder bugs, and other occasional invaders, check out How to deal with occasional invaders on the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s What’s Bugging You? page.

July 19, 2016
by Matt Frye
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Early Detection – Rapid Response

I’m an urban entomologist with expertise in pest management, so you might think my house is free from pests. Not true. My recent adventure confirmed the importance of addressing an issue at the onset. Otherwise, things can get pretty ugly.

The Situation
A small portion of my basement is a dirt floor crawl space. When I moved in (August 2014) it was clear that this was not only a raccoon latrine, but mice had been nesting in the insulation above, so the dirt floor was covered in droppings and old cached food items. I sealed the exterior foundation from future intrusion and installed 5-mil thick plastic over the soil to reduce moisture and provide a good surface to crawl on for other projects that needed my attention.

My Mistake

A meal moth, Pyralis farinalis.

—A meal moth, Pyralis farinalis.

In the fall of 2015 I noticed a few meal moths (Pyralis farinalis) fluttering around the basement, which seemed pretty odd. Something made me look under the plastic and I saw that where there had been organic matter was now mold. Caterpillars were feeding in this area on the organic debris, leaving behind their pellet-shaped frass and head capsules. (Frass is caterpillar poop.)

And head capsule? Remember that caterpillar skin doesn’t grow along with the caterpillar. It needs to molt as it grows. The first thing it sheds is the skin around its head — the head capsule.

But back to my story. I decided that the mold was probably a bigger concern than the moths, so I kept the plastic down and decided I’d tackle the issue later.

Pellet-shaped frass and orange head capsules from caterpillars feeding.

—Pellet-shaped frass and orange head capsules from caterpillars feeding.

Beginning this spring, the number of moths in the basement rose steadily. When it warmed up, I decided to open the windows, pull up the plastic, and dry out the soil. Big mistake. For every moth flying around, there were a dozen more under the plastic. I had unleashed a blizzard of insects. Entomologist dream come true? Nope, not really.

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—Mold and pellet-shaped frass.

What I Did
I removed moths from the walls with a handheld vacuum. Meanwhile I noticed two things about them:

  • they aggregate in certain areas, likely due to the presence of a female emitting pheromones
  • they’re negatively phototactic; they avoid light

This meant I could crawl in my dimly lit space to suck up dozens of meal moths at a time, reducing mating opportunities. Wearing the right gear — a HEPA mask, goggles and gloves — I turned the soil, opened the windows and used a box fan to keep the space dry. Even if more adults emerged (which they did), the larval food source was eliminated, preventing more breeding.

What I Should Have Done
As soon as I saw the first moth and found the source, I should have addressed the issue – the breeding material. The ideal solution was (and is) to remove the contaminated soil that holds frass and other organic material, then take it outdoors where it will degrade over time. Covering up a problem doesn’t make it go away but makes it worse.

The Lesson
If you come across a pest problem, attend to it right away. Identify and remove sources of food, especially breeding sites. It is much easier to deal with a small, confined population than a large dispersed one.

June 5, 2015
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Inspect for Wasps and Avoid the Sting

Inspect for Wasps and Avoid the Sting

Yellowjackets, bald-faced hornets and paper wasps are stinging insects that nest on or near structures. While colony sizes start small, the population of stinging insects in nests grows over time and can result in hundreds to thousands of individuals in the case of yellowjackets. Whereas management of large nests requires the assistance of a professional, starter nests can be easily knocked down, repeatedly if necessary, to discourage future nesting. Here are some steps to inspecting for wasps to avoid the sting!

1. Inspection: starting in early June, weekly walks around the perimeter of your property or facility can be used to identify the start of stinging insect nests. This might include paper wasps, which create an open-comb nest, or yellowjackets and bald-faced hornets that create nests wrapped in a papery envelope.

2. Removal: early nests may only contain a few individuals. These can be knocked down with a pole or by spraying with a hose from a safe distance. It is advised that you wear thick clothing, and conduct work at night using indirect light (do not shine a beam of light directly at the nest). Red filtered light will not be detected by wasps.

IMG_1748  IMG_1775

3. Extermination: Once nests are on the ground, stomp on them to kill any adults or larvae that are inside.

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4. Repeat: if queens escape, they may return to rebuild the nest somewhere nearby. However, repeated removal of the nest will ultimately discourage wasps from nesting there.

Note: some yellowjacket species will nest in wall voids, and you will see wasps flying in and out of the space during your inspection. A vacuum can be used to reduce the number of wasps that nest in wall voids, as shown in this video.

Staples White Plains (2)

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