The Lowdown on Ladybugs: Beneficial Beetle Facts
Find out why a ladybug is not actually a bug at all! Plus find out more curious and fun facts about these helpful garden beetles.
As well-known garden guests, ladybugs are charismatic and beloved. They’re fascinating too—as these ladybug facts and tidbits prove.
Ladybugs Aren’t Bugs
It’s true! Instead, they’re properly called lady beetles. Gary Parsons of Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology explains that true bugs have beaklike sucking mouthparts, which ladybugs lack. “They have chewing mouthparts, and their front wings are hardened into shells called elytra,” Gary says.
Learn more about garden beetles that are helpful backyard bugs.
Types of Ladybugs Around the World
The Coccinellidae family is made up of about 6,000 species around the world. North America has around 500 varieties, though not all are native. One of the most emblematic, the seven-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata), was introduced from Europe to help control agricultural pests. A similar species, the nine-spotted lady beetle (C. novemnotata), is native, although it’s now rare.
Spots or Not
These beetles come in a variety of patterns. Some are mostly one solid color, while others have spots or even stripes. Most are red, orange or yellow, though a few are mostly black. Many of them are toxic or foul-tasting, and the bright colors let would-be attackers know to steer clear.
One of the most commonly believed ladybug facts is that you can tell their age by their number of spots, but this is a myth.
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Ladybugs usually protect themselves from predators in one of two ways: They either play dead or secrete a fluid from their legs to make themselves taste bad.
Psst—meet the 8 bugs you should never kill in your garden.
Ladybugs Have a Short Lifespan
Larvae (called nymphs) spend four to six weeks eating and growing. “They need a really abundant aphid supply,” says Gary. In addition, these nymphs eat mites, insect eggs and other small insects. After three to 12 days as pupae, adult beetles emerge and generally survive for a year or more.
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Females will lay up to 1,000 eggs within a few months, generally from spring to early summer.
Learn how to control a Japanese beetle infestation.
Migration and Hibernation
“All lady beetles overwinter as adults, often in large aggregations,” Gary says. “In the fall, they migrate away from gardens and crop fields into mountains and woodlands.” Though they enter diapause (a state similar to hibernation) in colder months, they also use these gatherings as a time to mate.
Good Pest Control
Lady beetles are a good form of biocontrol, but Gary cautions against buying live ones for your garden, as they may harbor diseases or parasites. Plus, they are harvested in hibernation and are ready to migrate when they wake. “If you buy a carton of lady beetles to release in your garden in the spring,” Gary warns, “they’re very likely to just fly away!”
Here’s a fun ladybug fact: a ladybug can eat up to 50 aphids a day.
Lady Beetles in Space
In 1999, four lady beetles and a jar of aphids flew off on the space shuttle Columbia. NASA scientists wanted to learn how they’d function in zero gravity. Turns out the lady beetles did just fine, eating and thriving hundreds of miles above the Earth.
Meaning of Ladybugs
Many cultures consider them good luck and regard large numbers of them as a harbinger of an excellent harvest. It was said that the Virgin Mary sent these creatures to eat troublesome crop pests, and farmers named them in honor of “Our Lady.” Whatever the case, it’s certainly true that even folks who don’t love insects are often charmed by ladybugs.
Does a ladybug have special meaning or symbolism?
You might see these insects called by a few different names, including: ladybirds, ladybugs, lady beetles and lady cows.
Ladybug vs Asian Beetle
Nonnative Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) are beneficial in the garden but can be a real nuisance. “They often overwinter in people’s homes, hiding by the thousands in attics and walls,” says Gary Parsons. Identify them by looking for the black M-shaped marking just behind their heads.