Ladybugs have been a source of fascination and intrigue for people of all ages for a long time now. However, there is a lot more to ladybugs than just their spotted bright bodies and docile nature. So I’ve produced a complete and easy guide to ladybugs.
Ladybugs, also known as ladybird beetles or lady beetles, belong to the family “Coccinellidae”, which means “little red sphere”. There are about 5,000 species of ladybugs in the world.
These beetles are commonly known as ladybugs in America and in Europe. Etymologists, however, generally use the name Ladybird beetles or Lady beetles because they’re actually beetles – not bugs.
Here’s some Taxonomy information on ladybugs to start with.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Coleoptera
- Suborder: Polyphaga
- Superfamily: Cucujoidea
- Family: Coccinellidae.
- Superfamily: Cucujoidea
- Suborder: Polyphaga
- Order: Coleoptera
- Class: Insecta
- Phylum: Arthropoda
Size: varies from 0.3 to 0.7 inches (0.8 to 18mm ) depending upon the sex and species.
So here it is, everything you need to know about Ladybugs in one Ladybug bite-sized topic rundown!
- Average Ladybug Lifespan in the Wild
- Guide to Ladybugs – Ladybug Natural Habitat
- 101 Guide to Ladybugs – Legend Behind the Ladybug Name
- Guide to Ladybugs – Bug or Beetle?
- Guide to Ladybugs – Ladybug’s Diet
- Difference Between Male and Female Ladybug
- Gestation Period
- Mating and Reproduction
- Life Cycle of a Ladybug
- Anatomy of a Ladybug
- Different Species of Ladybug Around the World
- Ladybug Use in Biocontrol
- Why Ladybugs Have Spots and Colors
- Ladybug Colors
- Meanings of Ladybug Spots
- Folk-Lore and Beliefs About Ladybug Spots
- Common Ladybug Species
- The Defense Mechanism of a Ladybug
- Natural Predators to Ladybug
- Ladybug Migration
- Ladybug Hibernation
- Ladybug Fun Facts
- Easy Guide to Ladybugs – And Finally
Average Ladybug Lifespan in the Wild
There’s a very common, but baseless, myth that the number of spots on a ladybug’s back indicates its age. That’s not true at all. In fact, Ladybugs usually live for up to a year. Their average lifespan in the wild is 1 to 2 years, sometimes up to 3.
How long a ladybug lives, depends on several factors including the type of species, length of hibernation, climate, predators, and food supply.
Guide to Ladybugs – Ladybug Natural Habitat
Ladybugs like to live in different habitats, including shrubs, trees, forests, grasslands, cities, suburbs, along the river, and crops. They prefer areas with a temperate to warm climate and dense vegetation like meadows, weed patches, and gardens.
They require little to thrive. They can live just about anywhere there is a temperate to warm climate. Their bodies required mainly only moisture and are satisfied by the larvae and bugs they eat, they do not need a constant water source nearby, only occasional precipitation or dew.
101 Guide to Ladybugs – Legend Behind the Ladybug Name
According to a popular legend, around 500 years ago during the middle ages in Europe, crops were being destroyed by swarms of aphids. Farmers prayed day and night with great devotion to The Blessed Lady, Virgin Mary, for help.
A miracle happened, and farmers saw a swarm of ladybugs in their fields, who came like a savior and devoured the pests that destroyed their plants.
Farmers began calling these red and black, tiny beetles Our Lady’s Beetle or Beetle of Our Lady, to this day people all over the world know these beneficial beetles by a variety of names, derived from the legend.
A Swarm of Ladybugs can be called a ‘Loveliness of Ladybugs‘, or a ‘Bloom of Ladybugs’
See more interesting Facts About Ladybugs
Guide to Ladybugs – Bug or Beetle?
Although they’re commonly called ladybugs, they’re not bugs at all. Bugs and beetles may look similar at first sight but they both belong to different groups of insects.
Ladybugs are a member of the order Coleoptera (beetles) and bugs are a member of “Hemiptera” (true bugs). The Coleoptera go through complete metamorphosis and their wings are also modified, these are the features that separate them from bugs.
Guide to Ladybugs – Ladybug’s Diet
They’re often called gardener’s best friend because they’re natural predators of tiny insects who like to grow on plants and pose a threat to plants. They commonly feed on aphids, which are small soft-bodied insects but the most destructive pests on cultivated plants.
Here’s the list of main garden plants that attract Ladybugs
Farmers love them because they protect plants by eating pests, even larval ladybugs eat aphids. Their diet also includes scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites, etc. Some ladybugs are considered vegetarian, for example, subclass “Epilachninae” or Mexican Bean Beetle, dine on vegetation. Also known as a plant-eating ladybird. Some of them dine on mushrooms and fungi, others eat mildew.
Adult ladybugs have the capacity to consume thousands of aphids in their lifetime. Mealybug ladybug, fungus-eating ladybug, and leaf-eating ladybug are also examples of the most commonly found species of the ladybug.
Difference Between Male and Female Ladybug
These beetles are so tiny and so identical that it is nearly impossible for a layman to tell which one is male and which one is female. If you see two ladybugs mating together, remember, the one on top of the other is the male.
Female ladybugs are usually slightly larger than males. Some anatomical differences between males and females are listed below, but you can get a complete list.
- Male ladybugs have more hair-like structures called setae on the last segment of their abdomen.
- Large prominent bands on the underside between the segments.
- A notch on the posterior segment
- Female ladybugs do not have lots of setae, just a few on the last segment on the underside of their abdomen.
- Do not have large prominent bands between the segments.
- No notch on the rounded posterior segment.
Their gestation period lasts for 4 – 7 weeks. The number of offspring depends upon the type of species but eggs are laid usually in clusters of 10-15 eggs, usually 1 – 2 weeks.
Mating and Reproduction
It’s generally considered to be the mating time around May (Northern Hemisphere).
Ladybugs reproduce sexually. The exact ladybug courting ritual is not precisely known. They all emit pheromones to help attract a suitable mate and begin the process of mating. As soon as the male finds a suitable mating partner he mounts on top of her from behind and grips tightly with his front four legs.
This process of copulating can last for up to two hours. Female ladybugs can have more than one partner while mating. She can store sperm for up to 3 months before she’s ready to lay eggs.
A female ladybug lays her eggs where there’s an abundant supply of food, often near colonies of aphids. If food availability is insufficient, she’ll lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs alongside each other, so that larvae, when hatched, can feed on unfertilized eggs to satisfy their body’s immediate nutritional requirement.
Life Cycle of a Ladybug
LIFECYCLE EDUCATION RESOURCES – The ultimate way to study the ladybug life cycle in the classroom or at home is with the Ladybug Land Habitat. This whole pack provides you with the instructions and enables you to monitor the growth patterns of Ladybug from Larva to Adult. Download the life cycle resource from my resources page, so you can document this for yourself.
The life cycle of the ladybug begins after the male ladybug mates with the female ladybug and lays her eggs.
All ladybugs progress through a complete metamorphosis. the Ladybug life cycle involves four stages, Egg – Larva – Pupa – Adult.
Eggs or Embryonic stage
Ladybugs lay eggs in clusters. mainly on the underside of leaves.
And usually on or near plants with a sufficient population of aphids, scales, or mealybugs.
Ladybug eggs look similar to small jelly beans and are arranged in clusters.
See the image shown here of an adult female ladybug laying a cluster of eggs.
Eggs may appear differently depending on the type of species. they may be pale yellow or bright orange to clear white, some of them are so tiny you can hardly see them. A single ladybug can lay up to 1,000 eggs in her lifetime.
Below is footage of a female Ladybug laying a cluster of eggs.
After 3 – 12 days, larvae of ladybugs hatch from the eggs. Larvae are elongated and look similar to tiny alligators. Their bodies are covered with bristles.
Some larvae have black spots or bands of bright color which will eventually form to create their adult spots. The image shown is a typical example of a ladybug larva.
These tiny larvae have an insatiable appetite, during this stage single larvae devour hundreds of aphids. They not only dine on aphids, but they also eat other soft-bodied insects including scale insects, mites, adelgids, and insect eggs.
They cannot fly at this stage so will seek out food locally. They may also eat eggs of other species too.
After hatching out, the larva is in its first instar (a phase between two periods of molting). It eats and eats until it grows in size, breaks out of its shell (cuticle), and molts. Usually, a larva molts four times in total before it becomes a pupa. Now, this larva will attach itself to a leaf when it is ready to pupate.
After the larval stage, comes the pupa stage.
Pupae are usually yellow or orange with dark markings. In this stage, the pupa is still, attached to a leaf, and its body experiences striking change.
The pupal stage may last for 3 to 12 days, depending upon the species, temperature, and environment also play a factor. image shows a ladybug in mid-pupa progress.
As soon as the metamorphosis is complete, a beautiful soft-bodied adult ladybug emerges. This recently emerged ladybug does not look like the one we see in our gardens.
It appears pale, golden, or even pinkish when only a couple of hours old. But don’t mistake these for golden ladybugs.
Anatomy of a Ladybug
Ladybugs have features commonly found in every beetle, that is head, thorax, abdomen, and six legs. Their method of eating is chewing with the help of mandibles and palps.
The eight body parts of a ladybug of antennae, head, eyes, pronotum, thorax, elytra, wings, and legs are discussed below. You can read a full insight into the Ladybug anatomy in my article – The Anatomy of a Ladybug. For a quick reference, refer to the diagram Fig 1. Below.
Ladybugs have a pair of antennae that help them to taste, smell, and feel their surroundings.
The ladybug’s head is small, round, and thin. The eyes, mouth, and antenna are located on its head.
Ladybugs cannot see color at all. They can only differentiate between lighter and darker, near to a black-and-white vision. They have two eyes, but they see very well close up but less so from a distance.
The Pronotum lies right behind and above the head. It protects the head and helps to hide it. It is often mistaken for the head because some ladybugs have markings on their pronotum, similar to those on the head. The most commonly known are the classic ‘W’ or ‘M’ shape on the pronotum of the Asian Lady Beetle.
Thorax and abdomen are the main body part of the Ladybug to which wings and legs are attached.
Elytra is the outer hard covering of a ladybug which protects it from predators.
The Elytra is colored with spots on it that act as warning signs, they vary from species to species and the coloration acts as a warning to predators that this beetle does not make a tasty meal. They’re symmetrical to one another and are made of similar material to your fingernails.
Ladybugs have a pair of very thin, delicate transparent wings, which help them fly and protect themselves from predators. Despite having delicate wings, Ladybugs can fly surprisingly High and Fast.
Three pairs of legs are present which help the ladybug to walk, but their function is not limited to movement only.
They have organs that help the ladybug to smell and when in a dangerous situation, they can ooze out their blood, which is a substance that’s unpleasant to many animals and even toxic to some. This is known as ‘reflex bleeding.’
Fig 1. Parts of a Ladybug as seen from a frontal view, which includes the following parts.
e. elytral suture
g. tarsal claw
k. tibial spur
m. maxillary palpus
Different Species of Ladybug Around the World
There are more than 5,000 species of ladybug in the entire world, and not all of them look the same. Their devouring capacity varies from species to species.
Over 100 different species of ladybugs are found in Europe, of which the British Isles contains around 40 types of these beautiful vibrant beetles, residing at its heart.
“Adalia bipuncata” is the two-spot ladybug, although native to North America, found commonly in parts of Europe. This carnivorous, harmless beetle has red elytra with two black spots on it, some species of Adalia have a black base and red spots, both colors are common in Europe.
Another species residing on the British Isles is Anatis
In the United States, there are over 500 species. North America alone, has more than 450 species of ladybug, these include the native 2-spot, 7-spot, and 9-spot Ladybugs.
Australia has over 100 species of ladybugs and the majority of them are beneficial. There are four most common species of ladybug flying around the gardens and fields, which include the ladybug with bright orange color and black dots. They are voracious predators of pests like aphids, mites, and scale insects.
Ladybug Use in Biocontrol
In the 1970s, Asian Ladybeetles were introduced in North America as a biocontrol for plant-destroying pests (aphids). They were brought to aid native ladybugs of North America, to eradicate aphids that were destroying plants.
What started as a biocontrol ended up with an infestation which has caused a great decline in the population of native ladybugs.
These invasive ladybugs have a faster reproductive cycle and a high tolerance for various difficult environmental conditions, both of these factors make them indestructible invaders. Research scientist, Richard Hall, in his latest research explained how these invasive ladybugs have spread so quickly.
Why Ladybugs Have Spots and Colors
When we read the name ladybug, a certain round, bright red beetle with several black spots on it, comes to our mind. this is how people identify a ladybug, which to some extent is true, but what happens if you come across a ladybug that is not red? or does not have black spots on it? Is it still a ladybug?
Not all ladybugs are red or yellow, and not all ladybugs have black spots on their body either. Although the most common ladybug; coccinella septempuncata or often called the seven-spot ladybug, we see in our house or garden, does have the above-mentioned features.
Ladybugs can have different colors on the basis of the species and habitat they belong to. They can be red, yellow, orange, brown, or black as well as other colors. Some are even black and white, and others are as exotic as bright orange and blue.
When an adult ladybug emerges from the shell its color is pale or golden which soon transforms as the outer covering or exoskeleton hardens. some species of ladybugs are spotted, some stripped and others have checked patterns. Ladybugs vary both in color and pattern.
Meanings of Ladybug Colors
Since we have already discussed the variety of colors found in ladybug species, it’s time that we shed some light upon the hidden meaning behind these beautiful colors and patterns.
A new study has elucidated the purpose behind a wide range of ladybug colors. According to Dr. Steven, these colors are actually signaling predators, their color represents the level of defense.
Some animals have a bold distinctive color, which, they use as a warning to advertise that they are at the least distasteful, and at worse potentially toxic, to their potential predators.
Similarly, aposematism refers to the appearance of an animal that signals or warns predators that it’s toxic or dangerous.
Some animals like wasps, butterflies, and frogs, as well as ladybugs, have aposematic coloration. The lively colors of ladybugs that we adore so much are actually part of their defense mechanism. They use these vibrant colors to deter predators.
ladybugs change colors in response to climate change. The two-spotted ladybugs were studied for decades by Paul Brakefield and colleagues, during research, they came to know that ladybugs change their color to cope with climatic changes.
In 1980, the ladybugs living near the coast were 90% non-melanic (red with black spots) and 10% were melanic (black with red spots). The beetles found inland were 60% non-melanic and 40% melanic.
This showed that the color adaptation allowed darker beetles to absorb more heat and stay warmer in cooler climes, whereas beetles lighter in shade stayed cooler in warmer climes.
Soon, with the passage of time, the researcher noticed the change, only 20% of ladybugs, regardless of area, were black with red spots (melanic). The decrease in percentage made it obvious that the warming of the climate in that area triggered the color change in ladybugs.
Meanings of Ladybug Spots
Some people have this common misconception, that the number of spots present on a ladybug’s body indicates its age and by counting these spots one can determine the age of a ladybug, but it is not true. You can read more about the full detail of this in my article – What the Spots on a Ladybug Mean.
Although these spots are part of their defensive scheme, the number of spots does have its own significance. In fact, the spots and markings on ladybugs help us (and the ladybugs) identify the differing species.
Those with the most number of spots are the leaf-eating ladybug, belonging to the genus ‘Epilancha’ species, or Mexican Bean Beetle with 28 spots.
Folk-Lore and Beliefs About Ladybug Spots
There are several myths associated with the color or spots of ladybugs.
Named after Virgin Mary, the seven spots on the ladybug’s body are considered a representation of Mary’s seven joys and seven sorrows, and the color red represents the red cloak that Mary is seen wearing in old paintings.
Some people believe that the number of spots tells you how many children you will be having, or how much money you will receive. Others believe that a ladybug with fewer than 7 spots is a sign of a good harvest and less than seven spots mean a very bad harvest.
Ladybugs are romanticized in many cultures. Their spots are said to indicate the number of months remaining before your wish for love, is granted.
Folks in Belgium believe that, if a ladybug lands on any part of a single woman’s body, she will get married within 10 or 12 months. People of Norway believe that if a man and woman, both find a ladybug at the same time, they will soon begin a relationship.
In Switzerland, mothers tell their children that they were brought into this world by ladybugs. In Asia, the ladybug is considered, the emblem of love.
It is said that, if by any chance you catch a ladybug and then quickly let it go, the ladybug will faithfully fly to the person you cherish. It will then, whisper your name in his or her ear and that person will come running to you.
Find out lots more meanings about Ladybugs in my article What Ladybugs Mean? Love, Luck, Signs, and Symbols.
Common Ladybug Species
With more than 5,000 species residing on this planet, it’s almost impossible to describe each one of them in detail. These cute beetles are pure joy to the farmers because of their undeniable benefits.
They come in many hues and patterns. Each species having its own charm and distinct coloring, ladybugs are truly one of the most interesting insects. A few of the main species are briefly discussed below.
Seven Spotted Ladybug
Seven-spotted ladybug or scientifically called “septempuncatata coccinella”, is the most common and widespread species of the ladybug.
The adult seven-spot beetle is 6 to 8 mm long. This beetle has red elytra adorned with seven black spots and two white spots near its head. Both larvae and adults are voracious aphid eaters.
The seven-spot ladybug is most active from late spring to autumn.
Adult ladybugs overwinter in hollow plant stems, under tree barks and rocks, either individually or in large groups.
This ladybug can be found almost anywhere, in gardens, farmland, moorland, grassland, and even towns.
One ladybug eats 5500 aphids in its lifetime. See the image opposite of a seven-spot ladybug.
When threatened, these beetles produce foul taste liquid yellow liquid to protect themselves from enemies. People in the past used to eat ladybugs to cure toothache. The seven-spot ladybug is also the official state insect of five states in North America; Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Tennessee.
Two Spotted Ladybug
Adalia bipunctata or widely known as the two-spot ladybug is a carnivorous beetle belonging to the family of Coccinellidae.
The species is commonly found in western and central Europe. Although also native to North America, the two spot beetle population has declined in many states.
Its scientific name bipunctata, literally means 2 spotted in Latin (bi “two”, punctuated “spotted”).
The most familiar form of the two-spotted ladybug is the one with two black spots on each wing case on a red base. The image opposite is of a two-spot ladybird.
Like other beetles, two spotted also feed on aphids, an adult beetle can eat more than 60 aphids per day. The larvae show cannibalistic behavior by eating their yet-to-hatch siblings. When a larva dines on its still-in-eggs siblings, it will have more chances of surviving to adulthood.
Polyandry exists among these species and each cluster can have eggs fertilized by more than two to three different males.
These notorious beetles carry sexually transmitted diseases spread by the Asian Lady Beetle. Several species of ladybugs, including two spot ladybugs, carry parasites (mites) beneath their elytra which are transferred to other ladybugs during copulation.
According to one experiment, the male receives 81 larval mites in exchange for his sperm. In some populations of two-spotted ladybugs female ratio is higher than the male ratio, that is because 80% to 90% of offspring hatching out are female.
This anomaly occurs due to the presence of symbiotic bacteria residing in the gamete cells of female ladybugs since it can only survive in females, therefore, it kills male embryos when eggs are laid.
Asian Lady Beetle
Asian ladybug is one of the most variable species of ladybug in the world with an unusually wide range of forms and colors. Scientifically called Harmonia axyridis, has many names including harlequin ladybug, multicolored Asian ladybug, multivariate ladybug, southern, Japanese, and pumpkin ladybug.
This species is originally native to Eastern Asia but introduced artificially to North America as a biocontrol.
In North America, Asian beetles are locally known as “Halloween beetles” because it is often found in homes during October in an effort to find shelter from the cold and for winter preparation.
The images show a few variants of the Asian Lady Beetle.
This beetle is approximately 7 mm long and 5-6 mm wide, with an oval body and yellow to red in color. The number of spots varies, from no spots to as many as 19 spots, which may appear differently in some Asian beetles.
The correct way to identify this notorious beetle is to look for a clear ‘M’ or ‘W’ shaped mark on its dorsal side, behind the head. These beetles are a nuisance to homeowners when they gather in large groups inside homes to overwinter.
These beetles are known to bite more so than Native Ladybugs, not hard enough to tear skin, but enough to cause (in most cases) a minor irritation.
Their foul-smelling yellow liquid (blood), which they excrete in their defense, can leave spots on white surfaces. Exposure to great numbers of these beetles can cause an allergic reaction “rhinoconjunctivitis” otherwise called sinus reaction.
The Defense Mechanism of a Ladybug
Ladybugs may appear cute, harmless, and helpless beetles, flying around munching on aphids and just minding their own tiny business, but there’s more to these bugs than meets the eye.
Like many insects out there, there are equal chances of ladybugs being preyed on by other bigger insects or birds. Ladybugs have some clever tricks up their sleeves, which help them survive and protect themselves from hungry predators.
As it’s already been discussed above in this article, it is natural for ladybugs to have warning colors as a defense mechanism. The ladybug coloring warns predators that the insect they’re about to eat might not be a tasty snack.
The outer hard covering also contributes to the ladybug’s defense. They also protect themselves by playing dead and releasing a small amount of noxious fluid from their legs which contains chemicals and hemolymph, this is called reflex bleeding.
The chemical compound released from its legs is called “Pyrazine”. The foul smell can deter predators from eating them. Ladybug larvae emit chemicals from their abdomen.
The chemical which causes foul order is also responsible for a bad taste in the mouth of its predator. One of the last defense tactics that ladybugs use, is the ability to bite – Although limited because ladybugs’ jaws are not sufficient to harm most predators, but it can still be used for beetle self-defense.
Natural Predators to Ladybug
In spite of ladybugs’ lethal defense, they do have natural predators. Either these predators are immune to the toxins or over time, they have evolved in such a way that they can cope with harmful effects easily. See the complete list of Ladybug Natural Predators.
A number of insects, birds, and other small animals predate on ladybugs. Many birds snack on ladybugs including swifts, swallows, crows, kingbirds, mockingbirds, magpies, bluebirds, thrashers, pewees, and martins. These birds are immune to the chemical toxins released by ladybugs.
Insects, which eat ladybugs include dragonflies, robber flies, and assassin bugs. The Dinocampus coccinellae wasp is a voracious ladybug predator, it lays eggs in ladybugs or their larvae.
When the eggs hatch, they feed inside their host and exit only when they’re sufficiently developed enough to pupate outside the ladybug, resulting in the death of their host.
Arachnids eat ladybugs too
Besides other insects, arachnids (spiders) also eat ladybugs for example joro spiders and cellar spiders. Amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamanders eat ladybugs as well, the amphibian gut analysis shows that ladybugs are often eaten by frogs and toads.
Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey
Cellar Spider wrapping then eating a ladybug
Some mites cause sterility in ladybugs and some fungi like Laboulbeniales and Hesperomyces, infect ladybugs as well.
Lastly, ladybugs eat other ladybugs, if it’s got a soft body and edible taste, then probably ladybugs will gobble it. Ladybug also eats other ladybug’s eggs, larvae, or pupae. Good for them, they’re also immune to the toxins released by their own sister ladybugs.
Migration is when an animal or group of animals move from one place to another usually on a seasonal basis.
All groups of animals can have migration patterns, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, crustaceans, amphibians, and insects. with that being said, some ladybug species also migrate, and they often gather in groups. The main reasons for ladybug migration are hibernation due to weather changes.
Ladybugs can migrate anywhere as long as there are suitable climate and food, but it often follows set paths laid down by generations of Ladybugs before them, in so doing they often head for and gather in the same places each year.
In summer, they migrate to North America and during winter they migrate to South America.
When fall rolls around, ladybugs leave their summer habitat, like yards and fields and look for places, to hide from winter.
They need a warm place to spend their winter and are commonly seen to hibernate in groups with hundreds and thousands of other ladybugs. This helps them stay protected from the weather. They often group up in tree barks, crevices, and even locally in houses and rooftops.
Ladybug Fun Facts
- Not all ladybugs have spots, some are spotless.
- A single ladybug can lay up to 1000 eggs in its lifetime.
- Ladybugs clean themselves after every meal.
- The ladybug spots fade as they grow older.
- Ladybugs have copycats – some spiders have colorings or markings like ladybugs to avoid their predators.
Easy Guide to Ladybugs – And Finally
So that’s my 101