I put ladybugs in the same category as ghosts, since I’ve neither seen a ghost nor the efficacy of ladybugs—after a dozen attempts to use them. Some growers swear ladybugs to be a godsend for taking care of aphids, but I know people who swear they’ve seen ghosts, too—I just don’t know what to believe.
In the mid 1970’s a group of my hippie acquaintances rented a beat up house out in the country from which to base their partying exploits that included lots of alcohol, marijuana, and whatever else was making the rounds, drug-wise, at that time. Some years later one of them related a story about a ghost (they called him George, as he’d pluck a guitar—a nonexistent guitar—at random times night or day) that inhabited the house: they were sitting around drinking and smoking reefer, having a good old time, when a light bulb unscrewed itself, hovered horizontally across the room, dropped in their midst and broke. I was not sure how drug-addled the teller was at the time of the occurrence, so I chalked the tale up as a result of a VERY good time.
But a couple years later, another member of the same crew told me the story in almost the same words, without prompting, and while my skepticism remained, I had to move the doubt-meter just a hair.
And then, a couple years later, I heard the story again from another person who was there. Again unprompted, he repeated the tale almost verbatim.
And again, a few months later, I heard another telling from yet another attendee.
These fellows, great guys that they were, weren’t so sophisticated as to conspire to tell me such a story over several years, so while I don’t have to believe that a “ghost” was responsible for the happening, I do have to believe that they believe, and I do have to believe that something weird occurred. So, while I still don’t believe in ghosts, I do wonder…
The same goes for ladybugs—I keep hearing how they’re magic predators, so I have to adjust my doubt, but my own experience tells me that maybe those using them are just imagining their success. I’ve put them by the pint in my greenhouses when aphids appeared and they didn’t help at all. Most, I believe, flew out through the louvers looking for better fare. I tried scattering them through the field, a silly effort at best. For me, it was a waste of money, particularly when I witnessed a case of their mass cowardice one year when aphids afflicted hundreds of thousands of acres surrounding me.
Because the infestation was so rampant, I either had to give up my livelihood for the year or hire a crop duster, which I did and which took care of the problem. The day following the spray, I saw dead aphids everywhere, and along with them an absolute horde of LIVE ladybugs. Millions, if not billions, had followed the chemical onslaught for reasons I can only imagine—were they eating corpses, or had they avoided the field earlier because the infestation was so bad they were afraid—is the local species’ DNA marred by cowardice?
So my impression of ladybugs, I admit, is a prejudiced one. Had I caught infestations in the greenhouses earlier, applied the ladybugs more correctly (whatever that might mean), they may have worked. But even if they had worked, they wouldn’t have been able to save my crops since the mess aphids leave tends to make flowers unmarketable. I still use ladybugs, but more as a “canary in a coal mine”—when I see a ladybug on a species I know to be aphid-prone, I stop in my tracks and investigate. Often, I catch an early outbreak this way, so I guess they’re not entirely useless.
And the ghost? I asked my father, without telling him what inspired my curiosity, if any suspicious deaths had occurred in that house, and he recalled that a young man in his late teens had perished there in the 1940s.