Ladybugs are not bugs at all, but are soft shelled beetles. Lady bugs are most known for their graceful ways and attractive outer appearance or their shell casing. In comparison to other bugs, ladybugs are the least harmless to humans and are often considered good luck, by even those who do not like bugs.
There are about 5,000 species of ladybugs in the world. These much loved critters are also known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles. They come in many different colors and patterns, but the most familiar in North America is the seven-spotted ladybug, with its shiny, red-and-black body.
Did you know? Ladybugs are small and usually quite round in shape. The color on the wing covers (elytra) can be yellow, orange, or red and often has small black dots on it. Ladybugs also have black legs, head, and antennae. Its body has three parts: head, thorax, and abdomen. Each of the three body parts has a different function.
The head houses the ladybug’s mouthparts, compound eyes, and antennae. The thorax has three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings. The first pair of wings is the hardened elytra that protect the flight wings underneath. When the ladybug takes flight, the elytra open, and the thin, veined wings unfold. The abdomen contains organs for digestion, respiration, and reproduction.
The Lady Beetle
The name “ladybug” was coined by European farmers who prayed to the Virgin Mary when pests began eating their crops. After ladybugs came and wiped out the invading insects, the farmers named them “Beetle of Our Lady.” This eventually was shortened to “lady beetle” and “ladybug.”
Ladybugs as Prey
When threatened, the bugs will secrete an oily, foul-tasting fluid from joints in their legs. They may also play dead. Birds are ladybugs’ main predators, but they also fall victim to frogs, wasps, spiders, and dragonflies. Potential predators may be deterred by the vile-smelling mix of alkaloids and equally repulsed by the sight of a seemingly sickly beetle. Ladybug larvae can also ooze alkaloids from their abdomens.
Insect-eating birds and other animals learn to avoid meals that come in red and black and are more likely to steer clear of a ladybug lunch.
Farmers and Lady Bugs
Farmers use ladybugs to control other insects. Because ladybugs have long been known to eat the gardener’s pestilent aphids and other insects, there have been many attempts to use ladybugs to control these pests.
Farmers often see a mass of ladybugs when the season changes. Also, ladybugs are known to wash upon the sea in large numbers. Fall infestations of these beetles is more a sign of winter’s approach. As the temperatures begin to cool, these bugs love when a sunny day beckons to them to come out and soak up the rays. They will do anything or go any place for a bit of warmth. In fact, if there is a tiny opening around a window or door, they find their way in and seem to invite all of their relatives.
In June 2019, a group of ladybugs moving through San Diego was so big, it showed up on the National Weather Service’s radar.
Ladybug Fast Facts
1. Lady bugs lay extra eggs as a snack for their babies.
2. Adult ladybugs fly with hidden wings.
3. Ladybugs survive the winter as adults.
4. A single lady beetle may eat as many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.
5. There are over 450 species of lady beetles are found in North America.