So, what's buggin' you?

Cars to homes, pests make presence known  

By LaReeca Rucker

Lovebugs, those amorous insects that make fatal love connections, have been hitching a deadly ride on highways this summer, pestering drivers who are sick of cleaning them off their vehicles. But in a few weeks, their lovebug sonnets will become eulogies, and they'll fade away until warm weather resumes. 

Experts say when lovebugs disappear, there's another insect that may start bugging you. Mississippians should prepare for the potential winter home invasion of the lady beetle. 

Pettey Hardin, who owns and operates Venture Car Wash in Ridgeland and Brandon, said lovebugs are a double-edged sword; they're good for business, but difficult to remove from vehicles. 

"They are bad on vehicles because their bodies contain acidity," he said."So if you go through a bunch of lovebugs on a road trip, remove them as quickly as you can. The longer you leave them on the car, the harder they are to get off. The acid in their body can cause etching in the paint or chrome." 

Hardin said it's less of a problem today than in years past because modern cars have a protective clear coat finish, but the insects are still difficult to remove, and no automated car wash can remove them all. 

"If it is a full-service car wash, and it's their job to get the car totally clean, they would charge more for that because someone is going to have to use elbow grease to get the bugs off. That would be a normal extra charge." 

To do it yourself, Hardin recommends soap, water and a lanolin-based chemical. 

"That seems to soften them and make them easier to get off," he said. "Use a sponge or soft bristle brush so that you will not scratch off the protective clear coat." A high-pressure water hose may also help. 

Julius Ikenga, a Mississippi Valley State University professor with a background in entomology, said lovebugs will begin to fade as cold weather approaches. 

"It's still quite warm," he said, "and that's what is keeping many of the bugs around. Lovebugs are dissipating now. We will have them another two or three weeks." 

Blake Layton, a MSU Extension Service entomology professor, said lovebugs produce two generations annually. 

"They are not really pests," he said. "They just live on decaying matter.The adults are harmless too, except for what they do to our cars. They are attracted to car emissions, so you really see them concentrating around highways. They are more abundant as you move farther south, and they can be quite a distraction in some areas." 

Lady beetles 
After lovebugs disappear, Layton said Mississippians should brace themselves for lady beetles that may decide to secretly move in with you rent-free this winter. 

"They can become just like the lovebugs, driving you to distraction," he said. "We have 100 or more species of lady beetles in Mississippi, but the one we are talking about is the Asian lady beetle." 

They keep pests under control in gardens, but they can become pests in the home. In their native Asian habitat, the insects overwinter in rocky outcrops, crawling into rock cracks that keep them warm and sheltered until spring. 

"Here in Mississippi, they look for a big blocky silhouette," Layton said. "That's a house." 

They are attracted to buildings with a sunny, western exposure, where they crawl into cracks and crevices. They sometimes move into the living quarters and accumulate in wall voids and attics. Once inside, they cluster together during cold periods, but when it warms, they begin moving about.

Layton said some homes are annually invaded by thousands of lady beetles. 

"In these numbers, they become real pests, and dealing with them takes a lot of time and energy," he said. "Once lady beetles get inside your home, vacuuming them and discarding them is the best treatment option. Insecticides are not very useful here. But in heavily infested homes, vacuuming lady beetles can become an onerous, winter-long chore." 

Layton said the insects, which are males and females despite their feminine name, don't do a lot of damage, but can stain walls with their defensive response. 

"If you catch a lady beetle, it bleeds through the joints in its legs," he said. 

The insects lay several dozen clusters of eggs that hatch into larvae and typically live from six weeks to six months. Layton said the best way to keep lady beetles and other insects out of your home during the winter is to make sure your home is bug-tight before they get inside.

 "You will have to act soon because, depending on fall weather conditions, lady beetles and paper wasps usually begin looking for overwintering sites by mid-October, and sometimes earlier," he said. "Sealing the exterior of the house after the insects have already gotten into the attic or wall voids can actually be counter-productive, because insects will be unable to exit the following spring and more will end up making their way into the living quarters." 

Some homes can be bug-proofed with a tube of silicone and a can of foam sealant, Layton said. Lady beetles can get through cracks larger than 1/16 inch, so sealing crack sthis size and larger will keep beetles and bigger insects out. 

"I get tons of calls about these lady beetles from homeowners all through winter, and once they get in, it's too late," he said. 

Properly sealed homes are also more energy efficient, and that can lower your monthly energy bill.