Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home…

Ladybug larva: Photo by Sally King

March 9, 20012     While a ladybug is a common sight in most gardens, I had never thought about it beyond its adult version. I follow another blog which has some wonderful macros of insects and today found a photo of a ladybug larva. Since some of the plants that we will be planting in our garden have the need for ladybugs, due to aphid issues, I thought we’d take a look at this very important garden insect.

Ladybugs are also known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles and there are over 5000 species worldwide and 475 species in North America.  Native to eastern Asia, the multicolored Asian lady beetle (the ladybug we commonly see), was first introduced in the US to help control crop threatening insects.  They are an important predator of aphids and scale insects and can eat over 5000 aphids in a lifetime. Farmers love them for their appetites. They were first introduced in PA by the USDA in 1978 and 1981 but they first overwintered in PA in 1993. However, a recent increase in the ladybird beetle population in LA, PA, and other northern states is thought to have come from a new source accidentally introduced in New Orleans from an Asian freighter, not the USDA releases.

Adult lady beetles have very characteristic convex, hemispherical to oval shaped bodies that can be yellow, pink, orange, red, or black, and usually are marked with distinct spots.     Multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) are slightly larger than native lady beetles, with adults measuring 9/32″ long and 7/32″ wide.  Similar to butterflies that eat the Butterfly weed and have a nasty taste when eaten by prey, they are protected by an odorous, noxious fluid that seeps out of their joints when they are disturbed.  The bright body coloration helps some predators to remember this and avoid them in the future.

Lady beetles have four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult.  The Asian lady beetle adults begin laying eggs close to their food source in early spring. The eggs are laid on the undersides of leaves of low-growing ornamentals, forest trees, roses, wheat, tobacco, soybean and numerous other plants.  Their eggs hatch in about three to five days, and larvae begin searching on plants for aphids and other soft-bodied arthropods on which to feed. Adults and larvae typically feed upon the same prey. Larvae molt four times, becoming larger after each molt, and enter an immobile pupal stage after the last molt.

After several days, the adult beetle emerges from the pupal case. Development time from egg to adult requires about 15-25 days depending on temperature and food availability. Later in the fall, near the time of killing frosts, the adult beetles seek shelter to spend the winter.

Photo freely available on Wikipedia Commons

Lady beetles also search out pollen and nectar sources.  These include any kind of mustard plant, buckwheat, coriander, red or crimson clover, and legumes like vetches, and also early aphid sources, such as bronze fennel, dill, coriander, caraway, angelica, tansy, or yarrow.  They also are attracted to coreopsis, cosmos (especially the white ones), dandelions and scented geraniums.

Myths about Ladybugs:

  • You can tell how old a ladybug is by the number of spots on its shell. Fact: Markings are determined by species and once they get their spots they don’t change.
  • In Switzerland, children are sometimes told that they are brought to their parents by a ladybug instead of the stork.
  •  In Britain, farmers expect bountiful crops when many ladybugs are sighted in spring. In many cultures, the ladybug is seen as a symbol of good luck. Some even say that if you hold a ladybug in your hand and make a wish, the direction that the ladybug flies off to is the direction where your good fortune will come from. Fact: Since ladybugs eat aphids, other small insects, mites and the eggs of insects and mites, you could argue that ladybugs do bring good luck to farmers and gardeners. However, there is no evidence to prove that the good luck extends beyond the benefit of fewer aphids feeding on your plants.
  • In Norse legend, the ladybug came to earth riding a lightning bolt. And in some Asian cultures, it is believed that the ladybug is blessed by God and understands human language.
  •  In Belgium, it is believed that if a ladybug lands on a young woman’s hand, she’ll be married in a year. In Norway, there is a myth that if a man and a woman see a ladybug at the same time, they’ll fall in love.


Ladybugs U if Kentucky

National Geographic

Slow Motion Video of a Ladybug Flying

University of Illinois

Video of Life Cycle

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About chestercoextbutterfly

I am an apprentice Master Gardener with the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) Cooperative Extension Program. My local office is in Chester County. As part of my volunteer activity I am working with a team to develop a Butterfly Garden on the grounds of the  Church of the Loving Shepherd.  We will be using the creation of this garden as an educational program for some of the participants in the Bournelyf Special Camp which, is held every summer. Members of the congregation of the church will be involved as well as in the ongoing maintenance of the garden.The purpose of this blog is to document the project as it develops.
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