“This lucky little Ladybug has landed here to stay -
to make my garden pretty and keep the weeds away.”
The darling little ladies with their funny feet and red wings, the Ladybug is a kid-friendly favorite and one of the first insect young naturalists learn about and interact with!
Despite wearing a polka-dotted hoop-skirted gown that a fairy godmother would be jealous of, few know that these dainty ladies are voracious beneficial insects that vacuum up hoards of tiny garden pests!
If not for the magical element they bring to your garden, you definitely want to attract these little beauties into your garden just for the free pest control!
Symbols of happiness, luck, and good times ahead, the Ladybug has become synonymous with virtue, innocence, and children. The word Ladybug and Ladybeetle first appeared in the Oxford dictionary in the 17th century. Known throughout the world as bringing good luck if a Ladybug land on you, it’s said that if you make a wish while holding a Ladybug - it will come true from the direction the Ladybug flies. Farmers and gardeners believe if you see lots of Ladybugs then you can expect fair weather and abundant crops!
Some people believe Ladybugs carry away illness and if one enters your home it means good fortune or it means your home is full of warmth and love. A Ladybug entering your dreams means big opportunities and prosperity will be yours soon! Others believe that counting their spots tells you how many months of good fortune you will enjoy, or how many children you will have.
Often decorating children’s clothing for health and safety, little Ladybugs have been filling nursery rhymes and children’s book imagery and captivated us for as long as we can remember! Celtic symbolism for the Ladybug represented mystery and hidden things between worlds, while First Nation tribes associated them with prosperity and fertility. Norse traditions say the first Ladybugs were sent to us on one of Thor’s lightning bolts.
Regardless of what you believe, it’s never a bad sign when you see a Ladybug!
Belonging to the Coccinellidae family which is around 6,000 strong, and 500 of whom live right here in North America, there are over 200 species that are native to the States.
You may be surprised to find that not all Ladybugs are red with black spots! Not true bugs, Ladybugs and Ladybirds are actually Beetles. Obviously not all girls, Ladybugs earned the ‘lady’ name because of their link with the Virgin Mary (Our Lady) in Europe's Middle Ages.
While most are familiar with the Convergent Ladybug or the Two-Spotted Ladybird, these Ranging from yellow and black, to red and orange and even pink in color, not all even have spots, preferring instead to host a series of irregular patterns and blotches. They nearly all have dark to black heads with white details, two short antennae, and 6 black legs.
Birds avoid eating them because the Ladybug employs chemical warfare by oozing a terrible-tasting liquid from their legs so that birds and other animals learn quickly that those bright red and black colors are a warning!
Featuring the colorful hardened outer shell, called elytra - a modified set of wings, that splits in two to reveal their flight wings, Ladybugs neatly folded inner wings resemble origami and have been studied by engineers and other scientists to find out just how neatly and consistently their wings fold and unfold every time! They can fold and unfold in a tenth of a second with precision! So of course, they are being studied to improve everything from umbrellas to ship sails and even satellite deployment!
The Ladybug/Ladybird’s second set of wings are strong enough to keep it air-borne for up to two hours and obtain speeds of nearly 37 miles an hour and as high as 3,750 (1,143 m) feet in the air!
Are Ladybugs good for a garden? You better believe it! Feasting on all kinds of aphids, mealybugs, thrips, leafhoppers, whiteflies, scale insects, and various mites that are major plant pests while also eating nectar, pollen, and fungus. These natural (and cute) forms of biocontrol save farmers and gardeners hundreds of millions of dollars in free pest control, loads of time, and keep harmful pesticides out of the environment!
Preying on all the destructive plant pests that typically suck the plant juices and chlorophyll from leaves and stems. A single Ladybug can eat as many as 5,000 aphids in their lifetime - and both juvenile larvae and adults are predatory! Like little Hoovers, where ever you find a bunch of aphids or other small soft-bodied insects, hold off spraying - a momma Ladybug is sure to come along and lay eggs there soon and the babies will begin devouring them in droves!
Hungry female Ladybugs can eat up to 75 aphids a day! Because many of the insects Ladybugs eat are also found on houseplants, you can see why gardeners and greenhouse growers buy Ladybugs and release them into their homes and indoor gardens!
From the moment they hatch from their eggs, Lady Beetles of all kinds make fast work of pests! You may not recognize the babies as they work their way through various molts (instars), but these black 6-legged crawlers have spikey abdomens with red, orange or yellow spots in the spring. Their cocoons resemble the adult Beetle with similar coloration and patterns where they go through metamorphosis in about a week to two weeks.
You’ve heard the problems before - habitat loss, pesticides, herbicides, and climate change. All are affecting native populations of Lady Beetles everywhere, but here in the US, there’s another threat. And it's from inside the family.
Starting out as an experiment, the slightly larger Asian Lady Beetle was brought to the US in hopes of increased pest control. The test subjects were let out into a field to be studied and the scientists were shocked…Shocked I say!… when their test subjects decided to fly elsewhere.
Since then, the Asian Ladybird or Lady Beetle has been reproducing en masse and outcompeting their native family members. A bit larger, having more spots (usually), having a distinct white ‘M’ on their heads and delivering a bite - unlike the more docile Ladybug, Asian Lady’s gather together in the fall and winter to hibernate. Often invading our homes, garages, and sheds for the winter, sometimes in the thousands!
1. Convergent Ladybug/Lady Beetle
Red to orange with up to 13 spots - which contrary to the wives-tale, do not indicate their age. Convergent Ladybugs often have two oval white spots
on their black heads. Gathering in ‘blooms’ for the winter and hibernating in the winter, these Ladybugs can be found throughout the entirety of North America
2. Nine Spotted Ladybugs
Similar to the Convergent Ladybug in size and shape, these carry distinct numbers of spots on their bodies and have similar features as other types of these beetles.
3. Spotted Pink Ladybug
More elongated but still red and black, these native Ladybugs have smaller red and black heads and no white. They almost look like Milkweed beetles at first glance.
3. Transverse Ladybug
Small and red or orange, Transverse Ladybugs have squiggle-like black markings on their shells that can be pronounced or very small. These typically have their shell color on their heads as well.
4. Two-Spotted Ladybug
These are your typical red and black insects that everyone thinks of when you hear the word Ladybug. Two-Spotted Ladybugs have one spot on each wing cover and can range from red to dark orange. Two-Spotted also has two large and very distinct white spots taking up each side of their head with a black stripe down the middle.
5. Parenthesis Ladybug
Orange and oval, the smaller Parenthesis Ladybug has a pair of parenthesis-like black markings, in addition to other black shapes, on their wings. They can be a mere ½ cm long!
Creating a Ladybug-friendly garden is easy! Lay off the pesticides or only spray for specific problems instead of broadcasting chemicals all over your landscape. Keep the herbicide use only on the lawn and avoid spraying garden beds and vegetable gardens where Ladybugs like to congregate. They’re also perfect themes for a Children’s Garden!
During the growing season, Ladybugs will avoid the sunlight and you can find them under leaves and in leaf litter as they hunt for insects. Mulch is another great place for both young and adult insects to hide out in. Leave a corner of your property a bit wild for beneficial insects like Ladybugs to hide and hibernate in.
Because they can creep in through windows, doors, and drainage pipes large collections seeking warmth for the winter can be a nuisance and make a mess, giving them alternative locations outdoors to hide in can help. Ladybugs hibernate in late fall through winter in leaf litter or in buildings, so let that pile of sticks and leaves by your compost bin stay untouched through the fall and winter as a bug hotel.
Avoid pesticides and treatments that are target-specific formulas, instead of broadcast treating everything indiscriminately. Treat with organic or natural pest control methods, traps, lures, and Insecticidal soaps instead.
Not just sticking to a diet of insects, Ladybugs also like nectar and pollen! Choosing flat-topped plants, native varieties, and pollen-rich selections, you are sure to call Ladybugs in droves. Also be sure to have a few groundcover plants which are great protective hideouts from predators, such as birds and toads.
One way to draw aphids and other pests away from your prized Roses and your vegetable garden, and leave some food for Ladybugs is planting (or allowing) decoy plants! Lettuce and greens, Nasturtiums, Radishes, early Cabbages, and other leafy vegetables are prime aphid territory, as are Milkweed/Butterfly weed plants, and Milkweed vines that grow rampantly (coincidentally also a Monarch butterfly host plant when they can’t find Milkweed plants). Plant a few trap plant rows to keep the aphids elsewhere and allow the Ladybugs plenty of food and pesticide-free habitat.
All living creatures need water, so in addition to helping honeybees and native bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects - a birdbath or shallow dish with pebbles in it, allows smaller insects to get a drink without falling in. Keeping it clean regularly helps deter Mosquito larvae.
Making a place for Ladybugs to hibernate, or aggregate in for the winter helps keep more of these adorable creatures coming back to your garden! Ladybugs also seem attracted to raisins, so tuck a few of these into the hotel to lure them in (but ants love them too, so you might just get Ants!).
Leaving hollow stemmed branches until spring or creating a pile of leaves and hollow stems in a back, shaded corner of your landscape also helps provide these and many more varieties of beneficial insects a place to hunker down for the long cold winter.
If you handle a Ladybug, do so gently and only if you have clean hands (no mosquito spray, hand cream, or sunblock).
Want to help Ladybugs? You can not only buy Ladybug eggs and release them into your garden but also join a citizen science group to help track and count these incredible little insects! One group, called the Lost Ladybug Project, can be found at www.lostladybug.org.
We need your help to keep these magical little bugs from declining further than they already have! Create beneficial insect-friendly habitat that benefits not just your garden, but the entire world, one garden at a time! NatureHills.com is here to help you create magical and beautiful landscapes full of diversity and color!