It’s late October in Ohio, and the ladybugs are swarming.
Not the bright red ladybugs of childhood and picture-books, but the “multicolored Asian lady beetle,” as they are formally called (Harmonia axyridis, for you taxonomy and/or Latin fans). They have the familiar beetle-backed shape so lovingly stolen by Volkswagen designers those many years ago, but are dirty brown in color, sometimes with the ladybug’s traditional black spots, sometimes not. They fly in that awkward, slow, ladybug way of flying, barely achieving liftoff, wings sprouting from under half-shells of carapace, and they’re on everything right now – in your clothing and hair after you cross the yard, in the trees, all over the outside of your house, and some make their way into the interiors, crawling up drapes and across floors, where they make an unsettling crunching sound if you happen to step on them.
Which you evidently should try not to do, for at least two reasons, neither of them spiritual: first, their blood, when spilled, stains permanently and stinks to high heaven (evidently the best evolution could do for them as a defense mechanism was regret –- as in “you can kill me, but you’ll regret it”). Secondly, they are helpful predators, eating mostly things with which we have less sentimental attachment than them, such as aphids and other pests we would otherwise kill with chemicals.
They’re called Asian because we imported them from Asia in a number of “planned releases” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, embarked upon in an effort to control indigenous insect tree pests. (Yes, yet another example of Federal government overreach, though as this occurred mostly in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, this one can’t be blamed on Obama.) This “worked” in a sense (pecan crops have benefitted enormously), but like so many other species that are brought here, deliberately or otherwise, from other lands (the voracious Asian killer carp currently colonizing the Great Lakes springs to mind), the Asian ladybugs do so well here that they’ve outnumbered the local variety and proliferated to the point of – shall we say – diminishing returns.
Evidently they swarm your house because they believe they’re still in outer Mongolia and perceive your house as a cliff-face where they can cozy up and spend the winter. Many of them have succeeded in wintering inside our house, I can tell you that. And biking or running on our neighborhood bike path has become a determinedly close-mouthed exercise.
Still, small price to pay, right? They only become a total nuisance right around Halloween, in which respect they are certainly not alone.
I caught one today, ambling up our bedroom curtain in search of a really nice place to spend the winter. I caught it easily and cupped it in my palm, briefly considering flushing it down the toilet. But then a thought struck me: is this how God thinks of us? Basically a nuisance, but a nuisance of his own creation, one that started with the best of intentions, not likely to survive very long, easily destroyed, but occasionally, sometimes, maybe even most of the time, still doing some small bit of good?
I walked all the way downstairs, opened the back door, opened my hand, and watched it fly slowly, awkwardly away.