Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Ladybug house guests earn their keep in winter

By STACEY COLE March 09. 2018 9:48PM

An immature bald eagle does not have a white head (it will by age 4 or 5), and its tail can be mottled with white at its band, but not distinctly banded. (Union Leader file photo/Tom Alvarez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Saturday, March 6, 1999.

Ladybug beetles (Family Coccinellidae) are probably the most easily recognized members of the beetle family. There are several species of them. As adults, they often overwinter in large masses under fallen leaves and bark. However, in late years ladybugs have invaded houses in fall to spend the winter. Our old house, built in the late 1700s, is no exception. These beetles are predators and both adults and larvae live mostly on aphids, small soft insects and mites. When spring comes, ladybugs who have sought refuge in dwellings reappear in search of an escape route.

A Henniker (The only Henniker on Earth!) couple told of their experiences with ladybugs. They wrote in part: “For the past four winters we have had the pleasure of housing large numbers of ladybugs in our home. They stay in small swarms in the corners of our ceiling for about two months. We have found a way to feed ladybugs during the winter months. We use orange slices to keep them out of harm’s way. Once a week we replace fresh orange slices on saucers on our window sills. The ladybugs stay on the orange slices and stay out of our sinks and lighting fixtures.

“We keep them in our house until May. (They seem to know the right time to come in and the right time to go out.) I open the windows and also vacuum up a few at a time with an electric broom with no beater. I open the dust compartment and let them go outside. The first spring I made the mistake of putting them out too early and many of them froze. They are Asian ladybugs and they don’t have the ‘anti freeze’ in their systems that our native ladybugs possess. We also solved our whitefly problem by placing a few ladybugs on our Martha Washington geranium and on our parsley plants. It took a week for them to get the flies under control. Now they patrol the stems and leaves each day and feast on the newly hatched flies.”

In a second letter our readers wrote: “A very interesting thing has happened since we relocated some of the ladybugs to the whitefly infested parsley plants. They have reproduced! The ladybug babies are not too pretty to look at. They are long, black and skinny with a red stripe down their backs, but they are just as excited about finding white flies as their parents are and that makes us happy! I lightly sprinkle water on the parsley stalks each day.”

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An East Swanzey reader told of seeing a golden eagle that had alighted in a tree near his home. He was most enthusiastic in reporting his observation, as well he should have been.

Catching sight of a golden eagle is a real treat. Such observations are infrequent in our state. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New Hampshire, a publication of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire: “Sightings of transients occur here annually, most often in the Connecticut River Valley, White Mountains and North Country.”

In attempting an identification of the golden eagle it is well to remember that these birds look quite a bit like the immature bald eagle. (Bald eagles do not get their white heads and tails until they are 4 to 5 years old.) Immature bald eagles usually have some white in the wing linings and often on the body. The tail may be mottled with white at its base, but not distinctly banded.

Golden eagles are uniformly dark below with possibly a slight lightening at the base of the obscurely banded tail. In flight, immature golden eagles show a white flash in the wings at the base of the primaries, and a white tail with a broad, dark terminal band.

According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New Hampshire: “Bald eagle activity increased during the 1980s to include substantial wintering populations. The wooded shoreline of the state’s largest lakes, rivers and estuaries supports most of this activity.

“Restoration programs in New York and Massachusetts and a growing breeding population in Maine have contributed to recently increased activity in New Hampshire. By the late 1980s upwards of 50 individuals were passing through New Hampshire in winter with 20 to 25 staying at wintering areas on Great Bay, the Merrimack and Connecticut Rivers and in the Lakes Region.”

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.


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