By Michele S. Byers
A Vineland family was recently shocked to find a scorpion in their house.
The scorpion, usually found in warmer climates, apparently crawled into their luggage during a vacation in Costa Rica and came back with them to New Jersey. It was removed without incident by local animal control officers.
Most New Jerseyans won’t discover anything as exotic as scorpions. But many may be surprised in the midst of winter to suddenly find ladybugs crawling on their windows, or a pile of stink bugs nestled behind their curtains.
The good news is that most bugs in the house during cold weather are harmless. They’re just looking for a cozy place to hang out, like everyone else.
Here are some common insect visitors from the outdoors:
Ladybugs – Ladybugs are the subject of nursery rhymes and are said to bring good luck if they land on you and fly away again. These pretty red beetles with black spots have a knack for sneaking into homes through cracks and crevices, and they’re cute and harmless enough that most people don’t mind. They’re considered beneficial because they help control garden pests. But did you know that not all ladybugs are the same? Unfortunately, native ladybugs – properly called “ladybird beetles” – are being displaced by non-native ladybugs. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at their heads; Asian ladybird beetles have a distinctive M-shaped pattern, while natives don’t.
Stink bugs – New Jersey has many native stink bugs, but an invasion of Asian “brown marmorated stink bugs” during the past 15 to 20 years has created problems. These shield-shaped stinky bugs with skinny legs were first detected in Pennsylvania in the 1990s before spreading throughout the mid-Atlantic states and up the East Coast. Skyrocketing stink bug populations are bad news for farmers, because of the damage they cause to fruit, vegetable and ornamental crops. Like ladybugs, stink bugs have an uncanny ability to find their way into houses through cracks and crevices. But it’s not a good idea to swat stink bugs because, true to their name, they emit a foul odor when squashed.
Cave camel crickets – If you have a damp basement, you may find yourself hosting cave camel crickets, also known as spider crickets for their unusually long legs. Camel crickets are nocturnal and like moist places. They’re not true crickets because they don’t have wings to rub together and chirp. But they’re voracious eaters who will munch on just about anything your basement has to offer – fungus, fabric, carpets, wood, cardboard, dust, plants, other insects, or even each other. They jump fast and far when frightened and – in a weird form of self-defense – will spring toward whatever scares them. The best way to discourage them is to get a de-humidifier and keep your basement well-lit and clutter-free.
Spiders – Spiders are so common in homes that there’s a broad category called “house spiders.” Experts say house spiders are mostly harmless and not interested in humans. They prey on insects and rarely bite people unless physically threatened, which can happen accidentally when people bump into or brush against them. They normally don’t hang out where people are, since household activities like vacuuming and dusting disturb their webs. If a spider is really bothering you, gently scoop it into a cup and release it outside. But keep an eye out for black widow and brown recluse spiders, whose venom can be dangerous to the young, elderly and allergic.
If the bugs in your house aren’t bothering anyone, why not let them be? Enjoy your household bugs and turn this into an educational opportunity. Check them out with a magnifying glass, read up on their life cycles and take an inventory. You could even get a bug cage and keep them as unusual pets! The kids in your life will get a kick out of this.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Morristown.