The Perils of the Lady in Red

Having houseguests can be a bit stressful. Even when they are quiet, unobtrusive sorts who don’t make a fuss, scatter their stuff all over the house, or criticize your cooking or housekeeping. Still, there’s always the issue of trying to be a gracious hostess without hovering. There’s a delicate balance to allowing guests to follow their own schedules and preferences while trying not to unreasonably disrupt your own.

Then there’s the issue of staying out of each other’s way in the kitchen. Courteously allowing guests to share counter space instead of swiping at them with the dishcloth. Not stepping on them while you’re cooking. Not scalding them with the teakettle. Letting them share the sink without washing them down the drain.

Oh. Sorry. I forgot to mention that the particular guests I’m talking about are ladybugs. Otherwise known as ladybird beetles. Coccinellidae, if one wants to be formal. The name comes from the Latin word for “scarlet,” which certainly fits these little red beetles with their dainty black spots. Apparently the “lady” originated in Britain and was associated with Mary the mother of Jesus, who was often shown in early paintings with a red cloak. I didn’t find any sources that speculated on whether Mother Mary would have been honored or annoyed by having insects named after her.

At least these are beneficial insects, for the most part, being primarily aphid-eaters. They seem friendly, too, though that may be due merely to the cheerful little spots.

Anyway, this time of year we are subject to random visits by ladybugs, mostly in our kitchen. I don’t know where they come from. Mostly they crawl around on the back of the counter near the window, with occasional forays up to the top of the screen.

I never deliberately squash them. Protecting them from accidents, however, is sometimes difficult. Fortunately, ladybugs seem to be tough little critters. They recover quite well from being flipped upside down, are not easily discouraged by inadvertent finger-poking, and do not drown easily even in hot water.

There was the one I tried to wipe up with the dishcloth, thinking it was an apple seed or a cracker crumb until I saw its legs. By then it was tangled in the fabric, so I spread the dishcloth out on the counter so it could extricate itself (which it eventually did) and got another cloth to finish wiping off the counters.

Every now and then one is hiding in the sink when I start to fill it with hot soapy water, and when it floats to the top with its legs flailing I fish it out with a spoon and dump it out on the counter. After a bit of gasping and wing-flapping it pulls itself together and crawls away, sadder and—I hope—a bit wiser.

Once in a while, of course, a ladybug does get squished or drowned. But it’s always accidental—I swear. Yesterday, though, I thought the ladybug perils had reached a new level. I was vigorously stirring batter for a batch of oatmeal bread, and there was a round red-brown spot. Uh-oh. I fished it out with my cooking fork and took a closer look.

Luckily, it was only an undissolved lump of brown sugar. I think.

Oatmeal bread, anyone?

Categories: Wild Things | Tags: | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Perils of the Lady in Red

  1. What’s the difference, you ask? Many homeowners confuse the adorable ladybug for the multi-colored Asian lady beetle. The insects look similar with one major difference: Asian lady beetles are more likely to swarm a house.

    Upon closer inspection, you can see that ladybugs are bright red in color with black spots. Conversely, Asian lady beetles may have pale to dark orange coloring with or without dark spots. Perhaps the biggest distinction between the two is that the Asian lady beetle will hibernate for the winter, meaning that an insect infestation in the fall is even more likely to occur.

  2. Mary Hercher

    Have a poster showing the 99 different ladybugs that call SD home. Oh, Yes, of the 99….3 are lost forever. They range is color from black to striped to spotted. Guess the orange/red ones with spots are the easiest to recognize. It certainly has been a year for them.

  3. Well, I’m trying not to drive any of the ones in the kitchen any closer to extinction–but they don’t always make it easy!

  4. I don’t care if they are Asian or Lady bugs. I never kill one if I can avoid doing it because they are useful creatures.

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