The different names given to ladybugs are almost as numerous as the number of species. But bug or beetle, understanding more about these garden guests can help you better appreciate their diversity and all the help they can offer in your garden and landscape.
What’s In a Name
You may call them ladybugs (although they are not really bugs), lady beetles (they are technically beetles), lady birds or in Germany you would say “Marienkafer” (Mary’s beetles). In North America, there are more than 350 distinct species of ladybugs, and there are more than 4,000 ladybug species around the world. Most species can be identified by the pattern of spots on their elytra (flight wing covers). In many areas, these helpful insects go by different common names, including lady fly, lady cow, little hen, insect of fortune, Mary’s bug and more.
About These Bugs
Lady beetles are members of the beetle family Coccinellidae, which means “little sphere.” In their life cycle, a lady beetle will go through egg, larval, pupal and adult stages, though the length of each stage and how quickly the beetle proceeds through each one will vary depending on the species and local conditions. Lady beetles may live in shrubs, fields, trees and logs.
Lady beetles’ favorite food is the notorious aphid, though they do eat a variety of different insects. A female lady bug has huge appetite, eating from 75-100 aphids per day, while the male eats about 40 per day. This makes them ideal garden helpers, and many gardeners deliberately release swarms of lady beetles to help control aphid outbreaks. Most lady beetles are predators, but a few are plant eaters, and can be crop pests if not controlled appropriately. Crops most at risk from certain lady beetle species include potatoes, beans and different types of grain. When lady beetles swarm in vineyards and are inadvertently pressed with wine processing (it inevitable that some insects are part of the process), they can impact the taste of the resulting wine.
Lady beetles have some surprisingly innovative ways of protecting themselves. First of all is their coloring. Most predators know that bright colorings mean that their victim would likely taste gross, usually sharp or very bitter, and bold colors can even indicate poisons or stinging. While lady beetles don’t sting, their bold red and black coloration can easily mislead predators. Lady beetles also produce a pungent odor when threatened or may just play dead. As well, the lady beetle larvae is kind of alligator looking, so not many predators will not mess with it.
Ladybugs and lady beetles are fascinating insects, well known to gardeners throughout the world. The more you know, the more you’ll respect and appreciate these iconic insects.