The days when little red and black ladybugs evoked exclamations of “sweet” and “adorable” are quickly becoming a thing of the past, at least around Barton County.
Monday night, Hoisington veterinarian Lindsey Mitchell posted a photo of one of her patients, a dog, that had between 30-40 Asian lady beetles attached to the roof of its mouth. The beetles look much like their native counterparts, but don’t be fooled by their unassuming looks. They bite.
“This is the second pup I have seen like this today,” she wrote. “If your pet is drooling or foaming at the mouth look for these lady bugs. They cause ulcers on the tongue and mouth and have a very painful bite.”
The post prompted a string of comments from concerned pet owners, as well as a handful of fact checkers that reposted an article from the blog IFL Science, debunking a 2015 hoax that included a similar photo. Others suggested fact-checking on the popular internet site Snopes.com for similar hoaxes. But Mitchell’s photo was no hoax.
She was reached Tuesday morning for comment. First, she stated, the cases seen in her office are indeed very rare. The fact that there are so many of the insects swarming in the area right now is likely the only reason these two pets have been affected.
“I posted the photo not to freak people out, but to provide pet owners with an action to take in case they find one of their pets drooling excessively or with apparent foaming at the mouth,” she said. “They could avoid a trip to the veterinarian’s office if they check their pet’s mouth and if they find the beetles, they can simply remove them with their finger or a tongue depressor. They aren’t like a tick, so there is no worry that a head or any part of the animal will be left behind to hurt the animal further.”
The beetles secrete a protective sticky mucus and the longer they remain attached to the pet’s mouth, the harder it is to remove them.
If the beetles remain attached for a particularly long time, the mucus can cause painful ulcers in the mouth like those of a chemical burn, she said. If that’s the case, the pet should be seen by a veterinarian, who can help with pain and monitor healing.
These cases are the first that Mitchell has seen, she added, which prompted her search for any known toxicity for pets. She could not find any scientific information indicating lasting effects of ingesting the beetles, and assumes that if swallowed, they would not stand up to the conditions inside the animal’s stomach.
Why here, why now?
Around Barton County, many area residents have commented about the appearance of Asian lady beetles swarming on porches or entering homes through windows and doors.
While they may be a nuisance now, it’s important to remember the beetles are actually helping control another infestation that is plaguing farmers in Barton County this year.
“The reason we have so many this year is in response to the sugarcane aphid and (the Asian lady beetles) laying more eggs because their food source was so abundant,” said Alicia Boor, Barton County Agricultural Extension agent. Sugarcane aphids feed on sorghum or milo and excrete a sticky substance that interferes with harvesting machinery. They were confirmed in the county last year, increasing their territory further northward annually since discovery in the southern United States years ago.
According to Jeff Whitworth, extension specialist,entomology,KSU, multicolored Asian lady beetles are very numerous throughout the state this year, as they have been in past years. The variety was introduced in North America in the late 20th century, but in the past couple of decades they have spread throughout the entire North American continent and are now considered an invasive pest.
They really hang out mostly in trees and shrubs when there are adequate populations of aphids. But when there’s not, they will move quite readily to field crops or wherever they can find adequate aphids, Whitworth said.
“This year we have had plenty of sugarcane aphids for them to feed on and there have been, and still are, large numbers in sorghum fields,” he added.
Stinky, biting pests
Great Bend photographer Amy Stein posted a complaint about the ladybug doppelgangers on facebook Saturday night.
“The biggest ladybug I’ve ever seen lands on my arm during a session tonight and I proudly hold my arm up and tell the family, ‘look at this awesome ladybug!’ And at that moment that ...ladybug BIT me! Since when do ladybugs bite?”
Whitworth confirmed, the multicolored beetles can and do bite. They come in a variety of colors, from red to orange to black with varying colors of contrasting spots. All have large patches of white with what appears to be a black “w” or “m,” at the base of their heads marking them all members of the same species. The native variety, comparatively, have all black coloring at the base of the head.
The Asian variety also seek out places to overwinter as temperatures cool and the days grow shorter. KSU Research and Extension offers a brochure,“The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle,” which includes information homeowners may find helpful.
They form aggregations of hundreds on the south and west sides of houses, seeking out openings where they can hide until spring. When they find a suitable winter home, they secrete a pheromone-laden substance to remind them where to hide the following year.
To keep them outside, the publication advises sealing all gaps around windows, door frames, eaves and soffits with caulk, silicone, or other suitable compounds. And if they’ve already made it inside, remove them using a vacuum cleaner or sweep them into a dustpan and remove them to the outdoors.
Large aggregations of the insects foul living quarters and create an offensive smell, they can cause allergic reactions in some people. Insecticidal barriers applied on the exterior of the home are also effective.