Ladybeetles: The sneaky scoundrel of Sewanee’s skies

By Robert Mohr
Staff Writer

I love my room in Smith Hall. I’m lucky to have it as a sophomore. Like many of the newer dorms at Sewanee, the windows are not a basic up and down affair with a screen, instead they open outwards, like a door.

This is useful for a variety of reasons, like pouring out the cold, watery, sad excuse for coffee my Keurig occasionally makes. It also helps cool the room when the A/C unit decides, like a freshman advised not to drink on their antibiotics, to ignore its instructions and hold fast to its previous temperature/lifestyle choices. This kind of thing happens pretty often, so the window is almost always open.

Unfortunately, this means it serves as a beacon for one of Sewanee’s most abundant creatures: The Asian ladybeetle. Harmonia axyridis.

Each fall and spring, these ladybug-wannabes materialize and wreak havoc on the Domain. A student, attempting to Harry Houdini their way out of a 10-page paper coffin locked with the key of procrastination, accosted on the third floor of the library by the ladybeetle. It lands on her, she takes a picture of it and puts it on her Snapchat story with the caption “Study buddy!” Or if the lighting is right, puts a filter on it and posts it to her Instagram story with a timestamp.

If that scene is too harrowing to imagine, picture me and my roommate, watching whatever Netflix show convinces us that we’re cultured and therefore permitted to ignore our studies, when suddenly one of these insect imposters flutters into our room and lands on the window sill. My roommate screams. He knows if he crushes the ladybeetle it will release a odorous yellow liquid that could stain whatever surface it is on– a phenomenon known as “reflex bleeding.”

He leaps to his feet and shuts the window. I grab our seasonal air freshener spray. Then, in an effort to send a message, we relentlessly “freshen” our invader. The room then smells of “Cashmere Woods.” We resume our culture research.

Now that I’ve presented two bone chilling examples of the destruction and suffering these bugs leave in their wake, I’ll show you how to distinguish between these six legged, spotted killing machines and the humble ladybug.

First and foremost, if its indoors, it’s most likely a ladybeetle. Ladybugs don’t end up inside homes very often because they look for spots outdoors to cozy up when the temperature drops. ladybeetles on the other hand, are drawn to well lit, warm spaces, such as window sills.

Perhaps you’re unsure if the lady you’ve encountered is a bug or a beetle and want to double check before attempting to dispose of it (the proper method is to vacuum them up, by the way). The best way to do this is to look for the ladybeetle’s telltale black “M” marking on its head.

Other differences to watch out for are coloring. Ladybeetles range from red to orange, while ladybugs are always red), size (ladybeetles are slightly larger than ladybugs), and snout shape (ladybeetles longer and more pointed snouts than ladybugs). Also: Ladybeetles can bite by scraping away the skin. So watch out!