How To Tell If a Ladybug is Dead, Dying or Hibernating And What to Do


Ladybug Facts, Ladybug Guides /

I write this not in any morbid sense, but because many mistake Ladybugs as being dead when in fact they could be far from it.

This is a true story. I was once sat on the bench in my back yard one summer, and saw a Ladybug walking past a few feet away. Then it stopped. After a while I bent down to check on it, it wasn’t moving, and it didn’t move for a long time, or when I urged it to.

Coming back later and it still being there was when I realized I’d witnessed the death of a Ladybug. It was sad, especially the manner in which it happened. The most I could think to do was gently lift it up and put it under some daisies – to rest easy in the hands of mother nature.

We all know the circle of life and the Ladybugs Life Cycle isn’t much different to most other animals and species. It’s when you see it first hand that it brings it home to you. It’s a small story of mine in the grand scheme of life, but it has a great deal of meaning behind it.

So how can you tell if a Ladybug is Dead or Dying? Ladybugs are unlikely to stay in the open for too long before moving. If you saw it moving before it stopped, or it appears to be ‘struggling’, then these could be signs. The other point to note is the time of year, Ladybugs hibernate over winter, so move very little. Here’s what you should do…

How To Deal With a Possible Dead or Dying Ladybug

If you come across a Ladybug and you think it’s dead, then there could be a number of reasons for it. It partly depends on what time of year it is and the circumstances in which you saw it

Here are a few circumstances, reasons and steps you should take if you suspect that the Ladybug might be dead.

The Ladybug Could Be Hibernating

We need to establish the time of year, as this has an important role to play. If it’s cold enough for you to be wearing a coat, then it’s cold enough that Ladybirds are looking for a place to hibernate. If they’re struggling to find one then they may begin to slow down or even hibernate virtually on the spot.

In this circumstance, if you believe this to be correct, then you’re better off gently moving it to a place that is frost free and away from predators, follow the rest of these guidelines in order to keep it fully safe.

Ladybugs Can Play Dead

Ladybugs have a technique in which they can play dead. At the same time, they can release their chemical odor through their feet joints known as ‘Reflex Bleeding’. This will emit the foul smelling odor. This release can discourage predators from eating them. They will also fold in their legs as though mimicking a dead insect.

If this is the case, then they don’t play dead forever, if you find that the ladybug appears to be bleeding then this is because it is feeling threatened. They may recover once the threat has passed (and maybe without realizing it, the threat was you?) …or you will need to test a little further…

investigate whether the ladybug is alive or dead

If you really want to be sure at this stage, then using a twig or other object, gently probe the legs of the Ladybug, if it feels that playing dead is not working and, with a bit of pressure applied, then it will likely start to struggle. At this point you know it’s fine and you should leave it alone. At most, transfer it somewhere safe where it won’t get trodden on.

It Moved and Then Stopped

It may play out like the experience I had. If the Ladybug was moving and then you saw that it stopped, this could be for a number of reasons.

  • The Ladybug is tired and needs to rest in its search for food or water
  • It’s approaching night time
  • Sensing danger it has stopped and is playing dead
  • It has sensed pheromones on the wind from other Ladybugs and is assessing them
  • The Ladybug has picked up the scent of Aphids and determining where they are
  • It’s scanning ahead and assessing the next direction
  • It has just come out of Hibernation and is not yet active enough
  • It’s cold weather and the Ladybug is ready for hibernation
  • It has reached the end of its life and has passed away.

Signs of Ladybug Old Age

How can you tell the age of a Ladybug? Hopefully, we all know by now it’s not by counting the number of spots on their backs. That’s a myth, and in fact, the number of spots is simply inherited from genes and nothing to do with age.

Of course, though, being an older Ladybug increases the chance of it dying. So assessing whether you think it is old can assist in your observations regarding its state of health.

Ladybugs live around 1-3 years, here’s what happens as a Ladybug ages. If you want the full rundown, then see my Ladybird Life-Cycle article.

  1. As a Ladybug gets older their bodies become very slightly more elongated. Younger ones are more round
  2. Ladybugs Spots and sometimes Elytra become a more faded color as they get older.
  3. Slight imperfections such as being unable to fully fold a wing under the Elytra could be a sign of less mobility due to old age
  4. Erratic or slow movement can also indicate that the Ladybug is quite old.
Eddie the Ladybug

Did You Know…
Younger Ladybugs pause their growth during winter months
Show me more Surprising Facts About Ladybugs

Why Do Some Ladybugs Die On Their Back

If the Ladybug is not moving and is on it’s back, probably with its legs crossed in as well. This could be a sure sign it has passed on. However, this is assuming it isn’t playing dead at the same time – see above reasons.

Toward the end of their life, insects can begin to lose their sense of coordination, this can cause erratic and haphazard movements that can result in the Ladybug simply rolling over onto its back and being unable to get back.

If it does not have the strength in its Elytra in order to flex its wings and right itself, then it will likely die in that position. That’s not to say they all die like that. The one I saw just simply stopped in its tracks.

What To Do If You Think a Ladybug is Dying or Dead?

If it was not moving when you found it, then it may have been there a while. Ladybugs do not break apart until the body has completely dried out. You can test if it is merely the shell of a long dead Ladybug by using this method.

If it’s not already on it’s back, then turn it over, and proceed (as described previously) to press down on its head area ever so gently with an object. If the head falls off, then it’s been dead a while. Certainly long enough to become brittle. If it begins to struggle, then you’ve got a live one!

Ladybugs Dying Whilst Hibernating

The Winter hibernating season at around 3+ months long is actually quite a large fraction of the Ladybugs total life span. So it’s not uncommon for many to die during this time.

If you’ve come across a group of Ladybirds hibernating together, then check back once they’re all gone. You will most likely find a proportion of them didn’t make it through the winter. As sad as it might seem, it’s just the way nature works.

It could be that it was due to die over that winter anyway, or it could be that a particularly frosty period overcame its ability to keep just warm enough.

ladybug - purple denny

Ever seen a Purple Ladybug?

Why Else Would a Ladybug Die?

There are a couple of other reasons why a Ladybug might die. Aside from the obvious one which is a Ladybug Predator ate it.

Firstly, if you use pesticides, or most any sprays in your yard/garden, this is likely to have an effect on Ladybugs, either they consumed too much of a chemical ingredient in food or from cleaning themselves after meals.

Or it’s possible they simply couldn’t locate sufficient food to keep them alive – if the pesticides were across a large area of crops for example.

One final reason could simply be the lack of sunshine. Not only does less sunshine generally mean there are less prey around to consume, but eating less prey means they cannot lay down the fat stores required to make it through the winter.

We must also remember that Ladybird Beetles are a cold blooded insect and rely on external heat sources to maintain their body temperature. A lack of sunshine or a cold snap can have consequences for many Ladybugs.

Conclusion

I hope this has helped you to identify if a Ladybug is dead and possibly what to do about it?

Let me know what Ladybugs you’ve come across where something unusual has happened, or if I’ve missed anything let me know in the comments too and I’ll add them in.

I didn’t really like writing this article, but I hope it helps you to maybe help some Ladybug that may just not be moving – for different reasons than you might think.

I’m going to think of this article as a small homage to the Ladybug that passed away before my eyes, whilst I was on that bench those years ago. Rest in peace little one.

If like me you’re a ladybug lover, then you might want to check out my page of specifically curated Ladybug gift ideas that I’ve spent years researching. I hope you like them. Plus download my free Ladybug education resources.

Related Questions

Can You Eat a Ladybug? Firstly, why would you actually want to do that? And secondly, I wouldn’t recommend it. They’re not poisonous to humans, but they’re unlikely to give you any nutritional value whatsoever. Much of the exoskeleton and wings are indigestible anyway.

Plus they do – and will emit a foul Alkaloid chemical concoction that will smell bad (and would likely leave a bad taste in the mouth). Or at worst will make you feel nauseous or unwell – particularly if you eat many. As an evolving human species, we perhaps had the capacity to deal with this fact thousands of years ago. But the modern stomach is hardly primed for it now.

32 Replies to “How To Tell If a Ladybug is Dead, Dying or Hibernating And What to Do”

  1. Hello lovely article! I have a question. I live in central Chile, its fall now and I have been having a lot of lady bugs coming to my balcony. I usually find them the next day not moving and I have been sweeping them up and throwing them into the garbage. Now I feel terrible bc I had no idea they hibernated. When I find them like this should I move them to a plant indoors for hibernation? Or should i leave them on one of my plants outside? TIA

    1. Hi Natalie, thanks for the comment. awww, it’s an easy mistake to make so you’re not alone. They may well have passed away anyway as many only live for 1 year. Especially if they didn’t seem to move whilst you were sweeping them up.

      I’d say, if they’re not in the way then it’s best to leave them where they are. If they’re in the way, then gently sweep them up and move them to a place that’s relatively sheltered from the elements, like under bushes, logs or other areas. If it helps, here’s what they do in Winter.

      It’s best not to bring them indoors. If they’re given a warm moist area to hibernate then they’ll likely release pheromones to invite all their family and friends to the party! and this can cause a nuisance in your home. If you do see any in the house then move them outside asap. They’ll be fine outside – it’s where they’re used to being 🙂

      I really liked that you asked, you’re helping to look after more good bugs 🙂 x

  2. Hi
    A lady bird came in through the window and settled on the wall. A little bundle appeared next to it and there has been no movement since. Although I thought it was strange and I worried it had died, I hoped the bundle was eggs and she was waiting for them to hatch.
    It’s been a few days now (maybe even a week!) and there is no movement. From reading your facts it seems more likely she has died (it’s warm weather here in England at the moment). What do you think happened? What’s the little bundle next to her?

    1. Hi Vikki, thank you for the comment, it’s hard to know what the bundle is without seeing an image, so if you have one you can send in then please do. I can only think this would be a clutch of eggs. Keep a watch on the Ladybird and if it doesn’t move at all then it has possibly passed away.

  3. Can a ladybug survive with a missing back leg?

    I found one today and it didn’t look good so I put it on a damp paper towel but it kept rolling on its back.

    This was 6 hours ago and I’ve brought it in and it’s still doing it.

    Should I put it outs it’s misery or can I save it?

    1. Hi Martyn, thank you for the comment, it’s wonderful how Ladybugs are one of those type of insects we try to care for 🙂

      I’m sure I’m too late for your current situation, but yes, any insect rolling onto it’s back is usually a sign of the end. It’s sad, but at least you did what you could to make it comfortable. As for “helping it along the way” that’s really only a decision you can make. But nature will take its course anyway.
      I like to think one will land on you one day to say thank you!

  4. I’m presently nursing one of four of the many ladybeetles I caught a couple weeks ago. Most unfortunately died or crawled somewhere “safe” and never reemerged. Dehydration is the most common killer, and sadly for the damsel I rescued, it may have been too late.

    Most of my deaths were around my ballast (dried out from the heat, though one of my four were rescued from the bunch there). And between seeing in UV and IR, mistaking reflections for flowers or just grabbing a drink, buckets of water, an amazing gnat trap, terrible for thirty Ladybeetles. So are fly traps (one of my four will never fully fold her wings).

    The girl (actually might be a boy) in question flew out of the seedling tent last night and found herself at my patio door. Either dehydration, or excess cold from the glass door, she isn’t well. I’ve given her some water and pineapple (a ladybird fav, they plant themselves for a snack even if running for their lives, they also like wet cat food, and fruit yogurt), and she became more active, but has since given up trying to control her legs (she did manage to get walking after a small drink, though it was electic and barely controllable). She seems frustrated she cant move right, and gives up after a short bit. I worry its unrepairable nerve damage, but only time will tell.

    If it’s any consolation, they’re Harlequin Ladybeetles, and 2 of 4 have bit me before. 2 are too shy to make the attempt. (However each has its own unique personality, and at least 2 show recognition of me when I feed them, so that diminishes returns on the consolations).

    Just thought I’d share my experiences this morning.

    [By the time I sent this, the shy girl is slowly up and walking again(still struggling, but getting better), so I am quite hopeful and feel this leaves my story with a happier ending]

  5. Hello, I randomly saw a ladybug fly onto my table and it stopped moving. I’ve tried to move it a little without too much force but he/she won’t move. I’m not sure if he/she is dead. It is winter. But I’m not sure why it would die if it was flying normally a couple of minutes ago. I’m kinda confused.

    1. Thank you for the comment Allian, this is similar to my experience at the start of the article. It can leave you in a state of dismay and confusion so I know how you feel. Sadly, it does happen that way, let’s hope it led a happy and fruitful life!

  6. I was sitting one day on my bed on my laptop and I take a break from typing and I see a ladybug crawling on my laptop back and forth but not flying away… and then eventually it crawls off my laptop on my bed and stops moving and when I touch it, it moves again and I know they hibernate so basically it just decided to go to sleep in my bed… how cute… I’ve moved it to a net jar with a wet sponge and i let it out every day but i don’t want to accidentally step on it… I’ve looked everywhere but there aren’t any ladybugs anywhere else in the house so I don’t think it would be too bad to keep it so I can let it go in the spring when it wakes up… i let it sleep and once in a while I’ll see it walking around but it doesn’t want to fly or go away or go outside…. I’ve let it go outside on its own from my window but it doesn’t want to go… isn’t that funny? 😂 it’s name is Lady…

  7. I didn’t see a ladybug on my counter and was cleaning, I couldn’t tell if I sprayed it or not but it was close (it’s all natural cleaner but still a cleaning agent). It now keeps rolling onto it’s back. I’m guessing after reading this I hurt it and it will die shortly, I feel so bad and don’t want it to suffer. It’s winter here and we get a lot inside. I always let them be hoping they live as long as possible in the warmth of my home.

    1. Hello Holly, I’m sorry to hear that. Ladybugs don’t breath in the same way we do, whether it effects the circulation of the air around the Ladybugs body is hard to say – it depends on the amount of cleaning agent it was exposed to. And don’t forget, when they’re at the end of their life they lose their balance anyway – my guess is that was more likely the case, sad I know. But it’s a blessing that you care x

  8. Hi!

    First of all, thanks a lot for the article!
    Second of all, after reading it, I’m still not sure if my new ladybug roommate is just hibernating or dead… It had been in my room for a few days, flying here and there from time to time, and didn’t wanted to put it outside because it was definitely too cold for it. However, it hasn’t moved in a few day and it doesn’t react when I’m poking it…. When they hibernate, do ladybugs completely shut down like that or is it a bad omen…?

    Thanks by advance for your answer!

    1. Thank you for the comment Lily, it’s always hard to say in these situations! They often rest in groups and do move around occasionally, so they’re used to some movement during their hibernation. The other thing to watch out for is that Ladybugs in the house will often emit a pheromone telling all their friends they found a great place and to join in! So be aware of potentially more arriving. Sounds like it’s fallen asleep, so I hope you were able to give it time and see what happens 🙂

  9. Hello all, I’ve lived in a very old house the last 2 yrs. with a lot of nooks and crannies ladybugs like to hibernate in. Today, after weeks of steady rain, it warmed up to 58 degrees F outside and the sun came out…. And all the ladybugs in my covered porch came out of hibernation. The enclosed porch is the warmest room in the house due to the sun. I’d just leave the ladybugs be, but they’re having difficulty finding their way out and I’m not even sure they SHOULD be outside since they’re supposed to be hibernating right now, they just got “tricked” by the unusual warmth. Does anyone know if they’ll be better off out in the cold or just staying inside?

    1. Thanks for the comment Sheena, they do get confused sometimes when it warms up, but when they wake up they usually have an instinct to hunt for food. If it gets cold again they will simply find another place to “sleep” – whether inside or outside. So don’t be too concerned. 🙂

  10. Great and helpful article. We had a ladybug in the house this morning. Im from California and living now in icy cold upstate NY and still not with the program so I put the ladybug outside thinking that it needed food to survive and would die in my house. Silly me. Put her out and she landed in the snow where a huge drop of rain landed on her. There were lots of dried brown leaves and it took a long time to locate her, I finally found her and then dropped her again. Picked her up again and brought her inside but the entire process took about 8 min and I fear I killed her accidently. I have been trying to find out if icy snow kills them or not and if 8 min would have done it? Its 33 deg outside. Anyway I guess time will tell. Now I know for next time.

  11. UPDATE!!!!! The ladybug is alive!!!!!! I brought it inside and left her in the hallway on a piece of paper. Checked on her a half hour later and nothing! I realized the hallway is awful cold so I brought her back into our apartment and talked to her and told her to please come back to life as we are sorry and love her and low and behold a few moments later our little girl was back in action!!!! She had played dead for quite a long time. Soooo happy and elated, it really upset us that we meddled and near killed her. Your article helped save her life, THANK YOU! 🙏

  12. Hey guys, I think I disturbed a hibernating ladybug while cleaning my bookcase. I put her in my conservatory on my herbs, thinking she needs food, but it’s far too cold in there, after a couple of minutes I went back to get her but she was on the ground on her back with the legs curled in. Could this be her playing dead? I’m really afraid that I killed her, she was flying around just a few minutes before this and then suddenly on her back, I’m afraid putting her in a cold room killed her! She’s back on a different bookcase now, fingers crossed!!

    1. Hey Kirsty, I wouldn’t worry, Ladybugs enter a light form of hibernation, they can wake up fairly quickly at any time to move or even drink. If she still feels the need to hibernate then she will easily find another place. If it was her time to “leave us” then it wouldn’t be because of anything you did – it would have happened anyway 🙂 x

  13. Hello! We found a lone ladybug in our office here in Wellesley, Massachusetts today – on the floor and moving around a bit. It is still quite cold here (30s/40s – but got up to 60 a few days ago). I am not sure if this ladybug came out of hibernation early due to that, but we are not sure what to do. We don’t want to release outside if it is way too soon/cold still (may be 50s tomorrow, but then back down to 30s/40s). I am a lover of ALL creatures and do not want to harm this adorable he/she. Do we release (into a tree/bark) or leave inside? Afraid he/she will get stepped on in the office and it is also quite dry in here. I currently have her/him in a glass mason jar with a wet paper towel – added a tiny bit of sugar to the paper towel earlier. I don’t want to cover the jar and trap in there if not the right thing to do. Please help!

    1. Thanks Melanie. It’s not fully understood, it could be an injury, but most often it’s considered a sign of old age.

  14. Hello. I love reading your ladybug articles. Thank you for sharing them with us all
    2 days ago I found a ladybug struggling to right itself on our porch. I put it right side up and it stayed in the same position for ages. Later that day I went to check and the poor little thing had it’s wings half out and was struggling to keep upright. So I put it in a safe critter cage and fed it soaked raisins And a bit of lettuce, popped a damp paper towel In there. The next day I took it outside in the sunshine and it began to partially open it’s wings but one got stuck halfway. I Gently unfolded the second wing and it stayed with open wings for a long while but never took off flying. I tempted and coaxed it. After an hour I just popped it back in the critter house and redid the raisin and damp towel and put some plants in there.
    Well fast forward to today. Still no signs of wanting to fly. Is this a young ladybug? Possibly an older one? Injured? I have some really cute videos of it.
    I want so badly to place it back in the garden and walk away but I want to make sure it can fly!! Help!! ☺️

    1. Thank you for the story Gina, sounds like it might be an older one – especially if the spots look faded? If it’s fairly small and brightly colored, then it may be a young one. If so then I hope it managed to fly 🙂

  15. We have spider mites on a hemp plant, it’s indoors and under a light in an enclosed area. We purchased a bag of Lady bugs and released them on the plant. We mist them with plain water a few times a day and want to know if there is anything else we can do for them. Looking forward to your answer. Thank you 😀

    1. Thanks for the comment, you’ve done all you need to do. So hopefully, you will just need to release them once the food source runs out 🙂

  16. Hi Pamela,
    five days ago, my daughter (eight-and-a-half years) found a ladybug at the park. “Lady”, as my daughter named “her” has not shown any interest in flying; however, she loves walking and will crawl along my daughter’s hands and arms at a nice pace. The tips of the wings continue to stick out like a tail (as they did when my daughter found Lady).
    We brought her home and set up a habitat, under the expectation that we may be releasing Lady in the coming days or weeks. Lady appears to be doing well, and not slowing down on her arm-walks.
    We cannot find any information about why the wings are not fully retracting. Could this be related to age or injury? Any information is welcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *