lady bug

Learning about Lady Beetles AKA Lady Bugs

Learning about Lady Beetles AKA Lady Bugs

Published in the Citizen newspaper on January 19, 2023

Written by Judy Wright, Agriculture Resource Educator with Seneca County Cornell Cooperative Extension

Learning About Lady Beetles AKA Lady Bugs

Even for those who do not like insects, ladybugs can be a good bridge to the insect world. These tiny creatures are the subject of children’s stories and are thought to bring good luck.

While I still call them ladybugs, they are actually a member of the beetle family of insects and not a true bug at all.Today the scientific community refers to them as lady beetles or ladybird beetles.

There are reported to be about 5,000 different species of lady beetles worldwide, with 400 species in North America.These tiny often harmless insects range in color and markings.Most adult lady beetles in the Northeast US have an oval dome shaped body with six short legs and are bright red with black spots.The larvae are long and black with spikes.They remind me of alligators!

As with many insects their coloring helps protect them from predators. The red coloration we see is viewed by predators as a warning to avoid eating the insect as they taste awful. If threatened, the lady beetles can produce a smelly fluid from the joints in their legs. When threatened in large numbers, even we can smell this offensive odor which comes out as a yellow oily substance. It has been observed that they will play dead!

Aside from human interference through the use of insecticides and habitat destruction, their main predators are birds. They are also eaten by other insects especially wasps and dragonflies. Frogs and spiders will also consume them.

Lady beetles can be found in a variety of habitats. These range from cities to the suburbs to open spaces which include grasslands and forests to every place in between. Lady beetles are active when temperatures warm in the spring starting at 59 degrees. As temperatures cool in the fall, they seek a warm quite place to hibernate through the winter. If you find their winter resting place, which could be under a fallen log or under a rock, you will find thousands of them cluster together in a colony.

There are no true native lady beetles in North America.The seven spotted lady beetle was first introduced in the middle 1900s to control aphid populations on many agricultural crops.The nine spotted lady beetle became New York State’s Insect in 1989, is now rarely seen.

Aphids are the lady beetle’s primary food source, they will also eat other soft bodied insects such as scale, mealy bugs, leaf hoppers and mites.It is reported each lady beetle can eat over 5,000 aphids in their lifetime.

The female lady beetle will lay her eggs on the underside of leaves where aphids are present.Aphids are a critical food source for the newly hatched larvae to survive.It is estimated that the female lady beetle will lay more than 1000 eggs in her 2-to-3-year lifetime.

Both the seven and nine spotted lady beetle are considered by some to now be native especially after the introduction of the Asian multicolored lady beetle.The Asian multicolored lady beetle becomes a nuisance in the fall when it seeks to hibernate in homes and buildings.It will bite when handled; however, they do not draw blood or spread disease.If crushed, they will exude the smelly fluid which can leave a stain on surfaces.

The Asian multicolored lady beetle is larger than the native lady beetles.Their color varies from bright orange to a pale yellow.Some can have 19 spots and others no visible spots.Asian multicolored lady beetles become active earlier in the spring than the native lady beetles often eating the aphid population before the native lady beetles become active.More information about the management of Asian multicolored lady beetles in the home is available on Cornell’s Integrated Pest Management website or by contacting your County Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

Native lady beetle populations during the past twenty years have been decreasing while invasive lady beetle populations are increasing.According to the Lost Ladybug Project website, the reason for this shift is currently unknown nor what the result may be long term of keeping aphid and other soft bodied pests in check.The Lost Ladybug Project is recruiting citizen scientists to record the different species of lady beetle sightings across the US. There were 39,096 ladybugs contributed as of January 18th.

If you appreciate the benefits of lady beetles, learn how to identify the many species and provide critical habitat to enable them to continue their beneficial environmental work.

Last updated June 26, 2023