Science

What’s It Like to Be Swarmed by Ladybugs?

“The ladybugs seemed cute at first.”

A person covered in lady bugs
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

On an otherwise clear night earlier this week, a large green blob showed up on the radar of the National Weather Service’s San Diego office. “It looked like echoes reflecting off raindrops, but we weren’t seeing any clouds,” meteorologist Mark Moede who was observing the blob later told the Washington Post.

What else is raindrop size, but doesn’t come from clouds? Ladybugs. A volunteer on the ground reported that there were “ladybugs everywhere.” The image was “actually a cloud of ladybugs termed a ‘bloom,’ ” tweeted the National Weather Service office in San Diego. (The weather service has settled on this explanation for now, though Moede later clarified to the Post that it’s possible it was something else, like a military effort to foil radar with aluminum particles) . The “bloom” may have shown up on the radar because the ladybugs were flying at thousands of feet, part of an annual migration from mountains to valleys, a local ABC affiliate explained.

All this made us wonder: What is it like to be in the middle of a ton of ladybugs?

Slate’s own culture editor Forrest Wickman has had such an experience. “The ladybugs seemed cute at first,” he told me, recalling the fateful day one summer when he was a teen. He remembers standing on his family’s porch in Connecticut wearing a brightly colored shirt as more and more ladybugs approached him. “There is a number at which they start to shade from cute into kinda creepy, and there is a larger number at which they shade from kinda creepy to terrifying. By the time it appeared that I was no longer wearing a bright-colored shirt but was instead wearing a red shirt, made of ladybugs, I was running toward the sliding door,” he said. So many ladybugs ended up inside his house that summer that he remembers becoming accustomed to the sound of them crunching beneath his feet.

If you want to feel a fraction of what Wickman felt that day, I suggest watching videos of swarms on YouTube. There’s this one of hundreds of ladybugs clustering on a tree in Northern California, according to the video’s poster, or this one of ladybugs looking like clusters of seeds or berries, or this one of ladybugs crawling on a woman’s arm and home in an undisclosed location (the residents were worried about curious tourists also swarming their home), or this one from PBS that features swaths of bugs that the narrator describes “almost like some sort of disease, except its moving.”

If videos are not enough to satiate your ladybug curiosity, you can travel to one of the spots where ladybugs are known to cluster, like the Muir Woods National Park in late November. (Ladybugs are not dangerous, but they can secrete a foul-smelling liquid, which means you might not want to get super close.) You could even purchase hundreds of live ladybugs on Amazon and release them into your own swarm. Slate editor Dan Kois did this for his child’s birthday: “It was a ladybug-themed party and at the end we gave everyone little cups with airholes and then opened the bag and a bazillion ladybugs flew everywhere and kids screamed, mostly happily.” Mostly!