Placing two pounds of frozen hamburger in a soup kettle, I added half a cup of water and placed it on a burner set at low. While waiting for it to thaw, I turned to unloading the dishwasher and gathering ingredients for the lasagna and layered tostada that I planned. Every five or ten minutes I’d stop, turn back to the stove and scrape a cooked layer of meat off the solid pink mass.
Stretching on tip-toes to reach for a bowl on a high shelf, I suddenly realized that something was missing from the kitchen. Settling back on my heels, I scanned the kitchen window above the sink, then examined the ceiling and light fixture. Craning my head this way and that, I inspected the countertops.
There had been no major announcement on the CBS news station when the invasive Asian lady beetles first arrived. They showed-up quietly, only a few at a time. One night years ago when my daughters were still living at home, I saw one on a house plant and mistook it for a genuine lady bug. It wasn’t until later that they infested our home in droves like an Egyptian plague.
Asian beetles are attracted to pheromones left behind by previous unwelcome ancestors. Unlike the horrid stench and stain that results when an Asian beetle is crushed, the pheromones are invisible and undetectable by a human nose. To a new generation of Asian beetles, the scent calls out like a real estate developer’s commercial, “Come and live here and bring all seven thousand of your brothers and sisters!”
My husband Arnie and I quickly discovered that just as the nights begin to get cool each fall, there would be a major hatching of Asian lady beetles. The first time we noticed this, he came home one evening and said, “I drove into a customer’s yard this morning, looked at the farmhouse and thought, ‘The house is a different color.’ When I walked up to the back door, I discovered that the entire side of the house was covered with Asian lady beetles sunning themselves!”
Before long we experienced the same thing. One afternoon I came home and found the outside walls of our house covered with a seething, orange sea of black-speckled insects. I swatted them away from around the door, jerked it open, dashed inside and slammed it shut.
Leaning against the door with relief, I suddenly looked up and discovered that the seal around the door wasn’t keeping them out. The closed door didn’t even slow them down. Like an invading army, they relentlessly marched through invisible gaps and spread out over the entryway ceiling.
Everywhere I went in the house, I had company. They watched me shower, dropped into food as I prepared meals, bit me as I worked at the computer and inhabited every surface in the house.
I plotted murder and invented new ways for extermination. Swatting was out. Their splattered bodies made orange stains and a horrible smell. Vacuuming worked well, but the dust bag reeked of beetle death and I worried that the ones that didn’t die, would crawl out with revenge on their minds. While working in the kitchen, whenever I saw one I’d scoop it up and drop it into a poisonous solution.
I reasoned that if I killed as many Asian lady beetles all winter, by spring there’d be few left. That never happened. As spring advanced, more and more came out from hiding places. Then, as suddenly as they appear in the fall, they disappear from the house when summer arrives.
I don’t like using chemicals, but when I heard about a solution made from chrysanthemums that would get rid of the Asian lady beetles, I hired someone to spray my house. It worked like a charm. Between September and the following June, all I saw were five beetles and they were the good kind…dead.
I didn’t bother to spray the house again last fall. There didn’t seem to be many Asian lady beetles around. This spring they came out from every crack and corner in droves again. Used to their constant, unwelcome companionship, their sudden withdrawal to the outdoors made me aware of how oppressing I find their presence.
Relaxing, I looked around and with a smile said, “Ah, I’m alone again.”