April 21, 2011

Ladybug, Ladybug, From Whence Did You Come?



     The first spring of our new home I went to an upstairs room. There, the floor was covered with ladybug carcasses. Where did they come from? Had they wintered in the woodwork? I’d never seen so many of the red creatures with black dots on their backs.

        When my granddaughter Jordan was younger, that is, toddler age, she loved ladybugs. I can’t say the same about me during this invasion of their ilk, although in other settings I find them intriguing.

     Although many parts of the world consider the ladybug a good-luck symbol, I don’t recall having that much extra good luck during or after the invasions. In China the ladybug is known as the water lady, in Africa it’s called the crop picker, in Iraq it’s known as the water deliveryman’s daughter. In Iran, the ladybug’s name means, simply, good news. Again, I don’t recall having an excess of good news following the ladybug’s invasion into my second floor.

     Basically, they winter in protective places, flying out to mate come spring. The females lay tiny eggs in fields or lawns. Those laying eggs inside your—or my—home seek houseplants.

     It takes about a week for the larvae to emerge. During this stage, the ladybug measures less than a quarter inch in length, looks like a tiny spiny alligator, and eats voraciously a diet consisting mostly of aphids. They spend the next week as pupas, transforming themselves into the red-spotted button beetles familiar to every gardener.

     Adult ladybugs eat as many as seventy-five aphids a day—their male counterparts consume forty.

     Ladybugs aren’t really bugs. They belong to the beetle family, Coccinelidae (little sphere). They have the insect-required six legs. Their wings have red covers that are often decorated with black spots. More than three-hundred fifty types of this insect are found in North America. Most can be identified by the number of spots on their wing covers.

     The color of the ladybug is protected, defending them from birds, which seem to know that insects colored red-and-black (or yellow-and-black) often taste foul. If this doesn’t work, making the ladybug feel threatened, the beetle plays dead or excretes a foul smelling liquid from their leg joints.

     Although most ladybugs are considered beneficial, the seven-spotted Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axidis, is the bane of housewives. Cluster inside cozy walls like snowbirds flock to Florida, they come out of hiding by the thousands. It is recommended that they be collected in a shop vac style vacuum cleaner before sealing and discarding the bag.

     To increase their presence in your garden, their needs—water, food, and shelter—must be met. Morning dew often supplies them with sufficient water. The ladybug is drawn to umbelliferous flowers, those broad-headed blooms (Queen Anne’s lace, fennel, dill, and yarrow). The tiny blossoms can land comfortably on the blossoms to feed on the nectar and pollen and nectar.

     As an insect, ladybugs have an attraction. They don’t bite. Their color is appealing. They have a limited sociability. The insect identified scientifically as Hippodamia convergens is called by the Swiss God’s little fatties.

     They are not usually welcome houseguests, these little beetles, often inundating the structure by the thousands. They land on my arm, crawl around, and, ultimately, I take them to my plants, where they feast on plant pests. They also clean the green plant parts without harming the leaves.

    As the children’s chant instructs, Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. But not before you ingest all the aphids in my garden.







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