Even ladybugs need a little help from time to time. If it's winter, or cold outside, and suddenly one or more ladybugs appear inside your house, there are a few things you can do to help them survive.
Ladybugs spend most of the year feeding on aphids (which is a good thing for gardeners). They'll also nibble on other soft-bodied insects such as mealy bugs, mites, scales and will even drink nectar. When the weather starts to get colder, they make preparations to hide away for the winter.
When they hibernate, they rely on fat they've stored in their body and humidity from the environment. Their goal is to find a safe location, tucked away from the elements, and hidden away from birds. They may hibernate in large colonies, or find their own little nook underneath tree bark, within wood piles, home siding/trim, or any place else that makes them feel safe and protected. They may even find a small crack or opening within the walls of your home.
If they've hibernated on or in your home, they may awaken when the warm heat of your home makes its way toward them. They are a nice sight to see in the dead of winter; a little hint of the coming Spring. But unfortunately, our homes don't provide the environment they need to survive. Without the right humidity and insects to feed on, they will eventually die. But there are a few things you can do to help these little guys.
A ladybug that has emerged from hibernation inside your home is probably low of fat reserves and pretty dehydrated. Your first course of action is to contain the ladybug and then get it hydrated and provide some nutrients.
Helping ladybugs is simple if you use the same methods used to raise insects. There are some important do's and don'ts when helping them out.
- Don't give it a bowl of water. It will drown!
- Don't just toss it outside. A cold-shocked ladybug won't be able to find a new hibernation spot in time.
- Don't pick it up a bunch of times. There's a chance you can damage the ladybug, and you don't want the oils from your hands all over it.
- Don't plan on keeping it for the entire winter. It probably won't survive.
- Make a temporarily enclosure for the ladybug using a small glass cup or mason jar that is lined with damp leaves and small twigs for climbing. Place a small piece of fabric over the top and secure it in place with a rubber band.
- Place two or three small sections of fruit in the bottom of the container. Grape halves are perfect. The ladybug can get both moisture and nutrients from the fruit.
- Put the ladybug inside the container, in a quiet spot (away from windows) and monitor it to see if it eats. It really needs to get rehydrated and replenish some nutrients.
- If your ladybug is really weak, set it directly onto the top of a grape halve.
The photo at the top of this article shows one of our rescued ladybugs refueling on a grape halve in late December. The ladybug would crawl around the container, stop and get some food, then crawl around some more. It ate multiple times. Once it settled onto a twig, we prepped a shelter so we could return it outdoors.
Once your ladybug has eaten a little bit, it's time to plan for its immediate future. The best chance your little guy (or girl) has for survival is to go back into its natural environment. If your ladybug is now hydrated, you'll want to create an environment that encourages it to go back to hibernation. Then you can help pick a safe outdoor spot for it to rest until the weather is better.
Ladybugs will become much less active when the temperature is below 55-60 degrees; even lower and they will enter a state of hibernation, relying on their body reserves to hold them over until temperatures rise. You'll want to encourage your ladybug to slowly return to that state of hibernation by placing the container holding the ladybug in a cooler area of your home for several hours. In the winter, that might be a closet, the garage, or other location that is pretty cool (between 40-50 degrees).
While your ladybug is acclimating to colder temperatures, you'll need to put together a temporary ladybug shelter in which it will ride out the rest of the cold weather. This might be a 6 inch bundle of twigs held together with twine, or an actual ladybug house you can buy online. Once your ladybug has become inactive, place it inside the shelter. Then place this shelter outside, in a spot that has a little overhead protection. You might tuck the twig bundle within a shrub, or hang a ladybug house under the eaves.