Coming in from the Cold: Overwintering Habits of Illinois Pests
It may not feel like it in the upper Midwest right now, but summer is quickly coming to an end. For many, this is an exciting time of year: The days get shorter, leaves turn wonderful colors, and nights bring a slight chill that has us swapping out our summer tops for light jackets. It’s also an exciting time for Illinois pests – for a slightly different reason. While we’re busy planning our Halloween costumes, local critters begin furiously preparing to survive the coming winter months.
They go about this in a few different ways. You’re probably familiar with migration – simply look to the sky and watch the birds flying in formation toward warmer southern climates. Others, like the dragonfly, know their days are numbered, and spend the remainder of their (short) lifetimes finding a mate. Females lay their eggs in ponds or lakes where they will be relatively protected from the winter’s frost, ready to be born in the coming spring.
But there are a few overwintering pests in Illinois that use a different tactic. Unable to migrate to escape the cold, and unwilling to simply roll over and die, these pests turn to their last remaining resource – the warm, bright confines of your home or business.
Overwintering Pests in Illinois
It’s no big surprise for the average homeowner to find evidence of rodents during the fall and winter months. But it really throws people for a loop to find living insects in the dead of winter. How can they still be alive after all those months without food or water? And just where did they come from?
By examining the biology of two notorious overwintering pests – the Asian Lady beetle (also known as ladybug) and boxelder bug – we can discover an insect superpower that baffles scientists even to this day.
Since the 1930s, pest management professionals like Anderson Pest Solutions have sought to understand how some pests survive the winter season in order to more effectively control their populations in the spring and summer. After all, some insects spend half their lives overwintering.
Because insects are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature is based on outside temperature, we assume when it dips below the freezing point, no insect could survive. At that temperature, ice crystals begin to form from the liquid within cells, causing irreparable cellular damage and death.
But here’s the amazing part – there are certain insect species, like the emerald ash borer, which produce an enzyme that prevents that ice from forming, allowing them to survive at extremely low temperatures. It’s called glycerol, and it’s actually one of the main ingredients in the antifreeze you put in your car’s engine. Amazing, isn’t it?
Ladybugs and Boxelder Bugs Press Pause
Unfortunately, this otherworldly power isn’t something ladybugs or boxelder bugs have. This is the main reason you can spot them indoors during winter. However, there’s something about these two Illinois overwintering pests you should know: Once they come inside in the fall, they do not mate or lay eggs until they leave again in the spring.
Every single ladybug or boxelder bug you see indoors has been hiding there the whole time. They’re exceptionally good at sneaking into your house or business, squeezing through the tiniest cracks in a few places:
- Around windows and doors
- Inside wall voids
- In attics, cellars, or basements
- Under porches or decks
- In storage sheds
Once they get in, they’ll find a nice, secluded spot to wait out the winter. They do this using a trick called diapause, which is essentially hibernation for insects (“pause” is right there in the name). During diapause, an insect’s metabolism drops incredibly low, allowing them to survive on stored body fat, and they’ll remain completely motionless to use the least amount of energy possible. They also gain a slightly increased resistance to extreme temperatures, and while it’s not the same as having antifreeze in their blood, it’s enough to keep them comfortable in your chilly attic or basement.
Why Are These Bugs in My House?
Let’s say it’s the dead of winter in the upper Midwest. The weather has been nothing but gray, gloomy, and cold for weeks. Then one day you wake up to a clear sky – the sun is shining bright, and while it’s nothing compared to summer, it’s enough to raise the temperature a few degrees. You go to look out your window to admire the sun’s rays, but you’re surprised to see the glass is covered in a writhing mass of blue-and-orange beetles – boxelder bugs.
Aren’t they supposed to be in diapause? Don’t they know it’s not even close to spring yet?
The thing is, to a ladybug or boxelder bug hiding in your walls, a sunny winter’s day provides enough heat to trick them into thinking spring is approaching, which slowly brings them out of diapause. You’ll notice that their movements are still very sluggish. And while you know these bugs are essentially harmless, that doesn’t mean they get to be freeloaders.
Ladybug Removal and Boxelder Bug Control
The funny thing is, as good as ladybugs and boxelder bugs are at getting into your home or business, they’re terrible at getting back out – especially if they’re still groggy from diapause. When you spot them on your windows and walls, they’re actually trying to leave. However, you shouldn’t hold your breath for them to eventually find an exit. If you’re ready to get rid of these overwintering pests, the simplest solution is to use a vacuum to suck them up and deposit them in the trash outside.
Squishing these bugs when you see them isn’t the best idea – ladybugs have a tough exoskeleton that makes them hard to kill, and boxelder bugs will release a somewhat unpleasant odor when frightened or crushed. Because of this, they are sometimes confused with actual stink bugs; thankfully, the odor isn’t nearly as bad.
Pest Prevention Is Always the Best Solution
Of course, the most effective way to fight back against winter invaders is to not let them get indoors in the first place. Seal cracks around windows and doors, repair holes in window and door screens, and consider taping your windows shut – ladybugs are so good at sneaking in, they can even fit through some closed windows. Ladybugs and boxelder bugs are especially attracted to the south and west sides of light-colored buildings because they radiate warmth. If you live near a wooded area, this step can make a huge difference.
Aside from sealing up your home, you should also consider contacting a pest control company to apply insecticide spray to your exterior walls in preparation for colder weather. This will kill most ladybugs and boxelder bugs on contact as they attempt to enter your home in the fall. Once winter hits, if you do notice some insects still made it indoors, we strongly advise against spraying any sort of insecticide – especially if you have small children or pets. It’s best to leave treatment up to your local pest management professionals.
Anderson Pest Puts the Freeze on Overwintering Pests in Illinois
Fall can be an exciting time for many reasons. If nothing else, it means that soon the upper Midwest will get some much-needed relief from pests like mosquitoes, ants, and pesky stinging insects. However, this doesn’t mean you can rest easy when it comes to pest control in Illinois.
Whether you’re located in Chicago or Downers Grove, overwintering pests are just itching to make your home into their new winter retreat. Keep these freeloaders out by contacting Anderson Pest Solutions. Our pest management experts will conduct a thorough inspection of your property, apply environmentally safe insecticide to any problem areas, and create a report detailing further steps you can take to protect your home. Schedule an appointment today so you can get back to enjoying the changing of the seasons with peace of mind.