Ladybugs wandering into homes during the Winter is a common occurrence where I live. Think of this blog post as a guide to better understanding ladybugs in general and as a helpful step by step method to compassionately ensure the survival of your friendly visitors during the Winter. I consider this a vegan and feminist issue because we as humans should protect other species because they have a right to life.
To begin I think I'd like to discuss ladybugs in general, as I find most ill will towards animals often stems from a lack of knowledge. You don't necessarily have to love (or even like) ladybugs, but if you recognize that they are unique creatures that are the subject of a life it suddenly makes sense to protect them when you find one in your home and it's too cold to simply put the ladybug back outdoors, throwing them out in the snow, or killing them.
Ladybugs are more properly referred to as Coccinellidae and are sometimes also called ladybird beetles or lady beetles. The harlequin ladybug (common to North America) is a human introduced species and was brought here in 1916 to control aphids - but is now becoming a "pest" itself. Some ladybugs eat plants rather than other insects. When threatened ladybugs can release a venomous toxin , a bad taste, or play dead. That is why it is important when you find a ladybug to gently prod the insect - and if the ladybug doesn't move, stick around and wait. I've witnessed many a "dead" ladybug suddenly decide to move 10 minutes later, or at worst when I've accidentally knocked them onto their back (trying to move them onto a paper to put them somewhere else) and their little legs start scrambling. Ladybugs live 1-3 years in general and do hibernate over the Winter. They hibernate over the Winter under the ground (I assume only where it snows or gets very cold), and if possible in large groups. Like all other animals ladybugs have hearts, can experience pain, and can suffer.
When it gets cold (at least where I live) ladybugs begin to look for places to hibernate. They can sometimes come into homes where it is warmer. You will often find them in bathrooms or other places where there is dampness. The first step upon finding a live ladybug is to carefully release him or her outside. If it seems cold - you need to make a call. My rule of thumb is that if it's too cold to go outside without a Winter jacket, do not release the ladybug. If you expect it to get very cold in the next 2 days, keep the ladybug inside in case they can't go into hibernation in time. If you expect it to get warmer and it's a little cold, keep them in for now.
Once you've decided that the ladybug must stay inside, you must contain them. Ladybugs often wander around your house in search of food, get lost, and then die. I have had many ladybugs I left alone disappear, and show up dead a few days later. This also happens to ladybugs that escape their temporary enclosures. So when I find a ladybug I get some sort of container that you can see through and will let light in. The size of the container is not extremely important - but please make it at least more than 2 cups large. The container must be closed so that the ladybug can't escape, but can still breathe. For my last ladybug I took a vase, covered the top with a kleenex (to be more breathable), and poked 20 small holes in it. I kept the kleenex on by putting an elastic band on it.
In your container put a damp kleenex or paper towel on the floor. It should be wet enough to be all wet, but not enough that it drips on its own (and could make a little flood). Then sprinkle sugar on the wet kleenex for the ladybug to eat. If your container is very large you can put a shallow dish of water in and dissolve the sugar directly into it. To make your ladybug comfortable you can add a few leaves from nontoxic house plants (like spider plants), from your fridge (like lettuce or carrot tops) or branches.
Then release your ladybug when it gets warmer. While it may be interesting, or even fun, to keep a ladybug in the home - remember that the ladybug is an individual and not a spectacle for your enjoyment. Firstly, this is not an ideal diet for a ladybug and would probably not allow one to live a long and healthy life. Furthermore, the ladybug would like to explore the world and live out their life in their own way. Let them have that decision and control over their own life.