The Guide to Ladybugs, Varieties, Habitat, Diet, Anatomy and More


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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.

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.

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

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.

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 body’s required mainly only moisture is satisfied by the larvae and bugs they eat, they do not need a constant water source nearby, only occasional precipitation or dew.

52 Plants That Attracts 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 as a variety of names, derived from the legend.

Quick Fact…
A Swarm of Ladybugs is actually called a ‘Loveliness of Ladybugs
See more interesting Facts About 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 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 which separate them from bugs.

Ladybug’s Diet

They’re often called gardener’s best friend because they’re natural predators to 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 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 mushroom and fungi, others eat mildew.

The adult ladybugs have the capacity to consume thousands of aphids in its lifetime. Mealybug ladybug, fungus-eating ladybug, and leaf-eating ladybug are also examples of most commonly found species of 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 the male and which one is the female? If you see two ladybugs mating together, remember, the one riding on top of the other is the male. Female ladybugs are usually slightly larger than males. Some anatomical differences between male and females are listed below, but you can get a complete list.

Male Ladybug

  • 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.
  • Notch on the posterior segment

Female Ladybug

  • 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.

Gestation Period

Their gestation period lasts for 4 – 7 weeks. The number of offsprings 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 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 to 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.

If you cannot find it locally then It’s available here on Amazon. Also as an add-on, you can get the four models of the lifecycle to go with it.

ladybug land education kit

The life cycle of the ladybug begins after the male ladybug mates with the female ladybug and she 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

ladybug laying eggs

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 image opposite of an adult female ladybug laying a cluster of eggs.

Eggs may appear differently depending upon 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.

Larval Stage

ladybug larva

After 3 – 12 days, larvae of ladybugs hatch from the eggs. Larvae are elongated and look similar to a tiny alligator. 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. Image below 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 leaf when it is ready to pupate.

Pupal Stage

ladybug pupa

After the larval stage, comes the pupa stage. Pupae are usually yellow or orange with dark markings. In this stage pupa is still, attached to a leaf, it’s body experiences striking change. 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.

Adult Ladybug

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.

emerging ladybird adult
new adult ladybug emerging from pupa

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 antenna, 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.

Antenna

Ladybugs have a pair of antennae which help them to taste, smell and feel their surroundings.

Head

Ladybug’s head is small, round and thin. Eyes, mouth, and antenna are located on its head.

Eyes

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.

Pronotum

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

Thorax and abdomen are the main body part of the Ladybug to which wings and legs are attached.

Elytra

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.

Wings

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.

Legs

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’.

ladybug-anatomy-parts-named
fig 1. shows parts of the Ladybug Anatomy

Fig 1. Parts of a Ladybug as seen from a frontal view, which includes the following parts.

a. antenna
b. head
c. pronotum
d. scutellum
e. elytral suture
f. elytron
g. tarsal claw

h. tarsus
i. tibia
j. femur
k. tibial spur
l. eyes
m. maxiiary palpus

Different Species of Ladybug Around the World

There are more than 5,000 species of a ladybug in the entire world, 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, is 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 occellata otherwise called “The Eyed Ladybug”. This ladybug cannot go unnoticed because of its larger size compared to other ladybugs, and dark eye-like spots ringed with yellow on its red body.

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 includes the ladybug with bright orange color and black dots. They are voracious predators to 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 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 as exotic as bright orange and blue.

When an adult ladybug emerges from the shell it’s 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 pattern. Ladybugs vary both in color and patterns.

Ladybug Colors

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 the defense.

Aposematic Color

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 ladybug that we adore so much are actually part of their defense mechanism. They use these vibrant colors to deter predators.

Climatic Colors.

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 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 ladybug’s body indicates it’s age and by counting these spots one can determine the age of ladybug, but it is not true. You can read more the full detail about 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 ladybug’s body are considered a representation of Mary’s seven joys and seven sorrows, and the color red represents the red cloak which 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 less than 7 spots is a sign of 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 same, they will soon begin a relationship.

In Switzerland, mothers tell their children that they were brought in to 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 benefit. 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 ladybug.

The adult seven spot beetle is 6 to 8 mm long. This beetle has red elytra adorned with seven black spots and has two white spots near its head. Both larva and adults are voracious aphids eaters.

male native 7 spot hibernating alone

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 itself from enemies. People in the past used to eat ladybugs to cure a 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, two spot beetle’s population has been declined in many states.

It’s scientific name bipunctata, literally means 2 spotted in Latin (bi “two”, punctuated “spotted”). The most familiar form of two-spotted ladybugs is the one with two black spots on each wing cases 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 their still-in-eggs siblings, they 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 ladybug, including two spot ladybug, 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 its sperm. In some population of two-spotted ladybug 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 a 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.

harmonia axyridis variants

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 cold and for winter preparation. The image opposite shows a few variants of the Asian Lady Beetle.

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 cold and for winter preparation.

This beetle is approximately 7 mm long 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 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 allergic reaction “rhinoconjunctivitis” or 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 ladybug’s defense. They also protect themselves by playing dead and release 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 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 ladybug’s jaws are not sufficient to harm most predators, but it can still be used for beetle’s self-defense.

Natural Predators to Ladybug

In spite of ladybug’s 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 fly, 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.

Besides other insects, arachnids (spiders) also eat ladybugs for example joro spiders and cellar spider. Amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamander eat ladybugs as well, the amphibian gut analysis shows that ladybugs are often eaten by frogs and toads.

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 ladybug 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.

Ladybug Migration

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 for hibernation due to weather changes.

Ladybugs can migrate to 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.

grouping of lady beetles

Ladybug Hibernation

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.

See more Interesting facts About Ladybugs. Or if this hasn’t answered your questions, then see my article Frequently Asked Questions About Ladybugs.

And Finally

So that’s my 101 introduction to Ladybugs, I hope you found it useful as a quick-fire guide. Do be sure to check out my other articles, as well as my Ladybug gifts and resources page where you will find lots of free resources and activities for home and education, as well as a specially selected range of my very favorite Ladybug products.

Links to the ideal education products if you can’t get hold of them locally.
Ladybug Land (amazon)
4 Ladybug Lifecycle Models (amazon)
Classroom and Home Educational Resources (my resources page)

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