Ladybug, ladybug fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.
(English rhyme circa 1744)
Our house is not on fire, though it is only a few blocks away from site of the massive conflagration of 1991. Our children are gone but not far, we have indeed flown away home, and ladybugs have descended all around us in the Oakland hills, where they are hibernating for the winter.
Yesterday Bill Popik took these photos of some of the thousands of ladybugs who are drawn here annually by the climate and the scent of previous hibernators’ pheromones. The clustering keeps them warm, hydrated and provides a wealth of opportunities for ladybug orgies. Despite their cheerful coloration, most hikers walk right past without noticing the moving red mass only inches from the trail.
Everybody loves ladybugs. They are gardeners’ best friends because they are voracious eaters of aphids and other plant-eating pests. I have had two close encounters with masses of ladybugs: one when a horrified babysitter opened a box of them I had ordered and in her fright sucked them up with a Dust Buster. I had to leave work to drive home and rescue the poor things. (This may seem callous but I had more sympathy for the ladybugs than I did for the sitter.) The other occasions have been during New England winters when they come into the house and gather up high in the corners inside the house. That isn’t a good thing because you can’t really scoop them up and most die of dehydration. There are always a couple of hardy souls who make it through the winter and are fun to release in the spring.
To my friends and neighbors who are braving the New England winter: keep warm, stay hydrated and remember that spring is only a few months away.
NOTE: If you want to know more about ladybugs, check out this excellent site: The Ladybug Lady