HANCOCK, MD. — Millions of black-spotted Asian ladybugs have moved into Virginia and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. They've taken up residence in coffee pots and sunny windows, on clothing and in Virginians' beds.
''They're a real pain. They are in my windows. They're in my coffee pot. They won't leave,'' says Eve Higman. They spent the winter in the walls of her farmhouse. Now, they're coming out of the woodwork. ''My neighbors and all have been vacuuming them up,'' Ms. Higman says. ''They get in our clothes and in our beds.''
Last year, Maryland extension agents received a few complaints about the beetles. This year, however, they're getting many more calls form across the state, according to Charles Stains, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
The ladybugs will soon make their way outdoors, Stains says, but they might try to move back inside in the fall. ''We're trying to tell people to sweep them up in a dust pan and put them outside in a pile of leaves. Don't kill them,'' he says. ''They eat insects that cause plant damage. They're the good guys.''
Insect experts don't know exactly how the multicolored Asian lady beetle became a problem in the eastern United States. The US Agriculture Department released an Asian lady beetle primarily in the South between 1916 and 1985 to control pecan aphids, says Eric Day, manager of the insect identification laboratory at Virginia Tech's cooperative extension service in Blacksburg, Va.
No one was able to find these beetles again, but in the fall of 1988, they showed up in Abita Springs, La., Day says. It was unclear whether the beetles originated from the releases or entered the country in Asian cargo unloaded in New Orleans, he says.
Since the late 1980s, the beetles have made their way north and east and have become a problem in nearly every state east of the MIssissippi, says Al Wheeler, and entomologist with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The beetles can be blood red, orange, yellow, tan, or black, and have up to 19 spots.
Experts can only guess when the ladybug problem will subside. ''I can't believe the numbers are going to increase indefinitely,'' Wheeler says. ''The population will stabilize, but no one can say when that will happen.''