|Name||Ladybugs||Diet||Carnivorous & Herbivorous|
|Scientific name||Coccinellidae||Weight||Approximately 0.198 grams (0.007 ounces)|
|Pronunciation||lay-dee-buhg||Length||0.8–18 millimeters (0.03–0.7 inches)|
|Classification||Insecta, Coleoptera, & Polyphagia||Location||Worldwide|
Ladybugs (also called ladybirds) are among the most recognizable insects in the world.
The small beetle, with an oval dome-shaped body, is well-known for its distinctive coloration and harmless nature.
Even people who do not like other insects seem to like ladybugs, and they’re considered a sign of good luck in many cultures.
To farmers and gardeners, the ladybug is a beloved beetle that helps them keep aphids and other insect pests away.
Just one ladybug can eat about 5,000 insects in its lifetime!
Historically, the name ladybird was used specifically for the European beetle (Coccinella septempunctata).
This has been the case for over six centuries.
It was named after the Virgin Mary and was also referred to as the “beetle of Our Lady.”
Then, as knowledge of this family of beetles increased, and more of them were identified, the name was extended to all members of the Coccinellidae family.
In this post, we’ll explore all the fascinating facts about the ladybug, including their physical characteristics, habits, habitats, diet, ecological role, and interactions with other animals.
The name ladybug applies to any of the over 6,000 species of insects in the family Coccinellidae.
Despite their name, ladybirds are not true bugs (order Hemiptera).
Instead, they’re beetles, which means they belong to the order Coleoptera.
The Coleoptera order is a large order of insects that accounts for up to 40% of all described insects and about 25% of all known animal species.
Some of the closest relatives of the ladybug include the handsome fungus beetles (family Endomychidae) and minute fungus beetles (Corylophidae).
Beetles, in general, have been around for millions of years.
The oldest known beetle is the Coleopsis, which lived as far back as the Permian Period (about 295 million years ago).
Over time, the beetles diversified into a vast array of forms, adapting to various ecological niches.
Modern ladybugs evolved from predatory beetle ancestors that have been around since the Cretaceous.
The oldest fossil for this family of insects dates back to the Early Eocene Epoch, which was about 53 million years ago.
The oldest living ladybugs, based on the current fossil record, are in the Rhyzobius and Nephus genera.
The subfamilies within the ladybug family include:
Like many other insects, ladybugs have four distinct forms (adult, pupa, larvae, and eggs) with different physical characteristics.
The adult form is the most recognizable.
Adult ladybugs have a round or oval body with a hard, domed elytra covering their secondary wings.
The underside of their body is flattened.
Ladybirds have a small, black-colored head, with large compound eyes and a pair of clubbed antennae.
Coccinellids are generally small, with a body length that ranges from 0.8 to 18 millimeters (0.03–0.7 inches) on average.
They exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females being larger than males.
Lady bugs have three pairs of short legs, each ending in a pair of claws.
In flight, the ladybug’s elytra unfold to expose a pair of thin, veined wings.
Ladybirds are colorful insects.
They may have spots, stripes, or no markings at all, depending on the species.
Some species are brightly colored with dark spots, while others are dark colored with bright spots.
Red ladybugs with black spots are most common, but yellow, pink, and orange ladybugs exist too.
Even with species with similar coloration, the arrangement and size of the spots and stripes tend to vary.
For instance, the seven-spotted ladybug has distinct red or orange coloration with seven dark spots (three spots on each side of its body and one spot in the middle).
The multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) may exhibit similar coloration to this, but the dark spots vary from 0 to 22.
Ladybird larvae look completely different from adults.
They have elongated bodies that tend to taper at the back.
They have three pairs of legs, too, but it’s hard to tell which end has its head when the larva is viewed from above.
Larvae are generally black but with patches of other colors, such as white, orange, or red, on their spiky bodies.
Pupae forms of this insect are immobile, but they may wiggle slightly when disturbed.
They are usually orange or red with dark spots, and they tend to look shriveled.
The color turns darker as the insect readies itself to emerge.
Ladybugs are among the most diverse and widespread insect species.
They are found worldwide and have been known to live in a wide range of habitats, including grasslands, forests, suburbs, and cities.
Some ladybug species are native to the region where they are currently found.
Others are considered adventive, which means they were brought in from elsewhere but have become established in their new locations.
Adventive species of these insects were either introduced deliberately by farmers or natural immigrants from other places.
For instance, the seven-spotted ladybug, which is now widespread in North America, was originally native to Europe.
The species was brought to North America in the mid-1900s to control aphid populations.
Ladybugs are typically associated with agricultural fields, gardens, and orchards.
They may also live in grassy areas and meadows with an ample supply of food and other resources.
Some ladybug species make their home in wooded areas, leveraging the diverse vegetation and insect populations found in such environments.
Ladybugs are more active during the day than at night, which means they’re diurnal.
They are active fliers capable of flying long distances in search of food, mating grounds, or favorable weather conditions.
Like most beetle species, their hardened elytra cover thin hindwings with cylindrical veins.
The wings spread out and stiffen when the ladybird is in flight.
Coccinellids can cover distances of up to 125 kilometers (75 miles) in a single flight, flying at speeds of up to 30 kilometers per hour (19 miles per hour) on average.
They may reach altitudes of up to 1,100 meters (3,600 feet).
Ladybugs are not territorial insects.
In areas with abundant food sources, these insects tend to congregate in large numbers.
However, some individuals may migrate to other locations when an area becomes overcrowded.
Ladybugs make “trivial flights” within the same location in search of food or a suitable location to lay their eggs.
They may also migrate over long distances in search of suitable hibernation spots or breeding sites.
Coccinellids are generally more active from spring to fall of every year.
When it becomes too cold, ladybugs will migrate to a warm, secluded place such as under rocks, rotting logs, or inside a house where they can hibernate.
The hibernating colonies may contain thousands of ladybugs.
Ladybugs can survive in this torpor-like state for up to nine months.
They rely on stored food reserves in their body to survive during hibernation.
They come out of hibernation when the temperature rises to about 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), which is when food is likely to become abundant again.
Although they congregate in large numbers, ladybugs are still considered solitary insects.
Individuals don’t form any form of social structure or interact significantly except during mating season.
Most coccinellids are carnivorous and predatory insects.
They mainly prey on insects in the Sternorrhyncha family, such as aphids, white flies, psyllids, scale insects, and delgids.
Some species also feed on the larvae of other beetles, moths, and mites.
Ladybird species are specialist predators, meaning they tend to have specific dietary preferences.
For instance, ladybugs in the Stethorus genus feed exclusively on spider mites.
The majority of ladybirds in temperate regions (up to 68%) feed on aphids.
Twenty percent of species worldwide have this dietary preference.
Lady bugs that prey on aphids are often generalist predators, which means they prey on other insects as well.
Studies show that 36% of coccinellid species worldwide prey on scale insects.
Unlike other insect species where adult and larvae forms tend to eat different foods, ladybirds eat the same food at all stages.
It is worth noting that not all ladybird species are predatory.
In fact, two species in the Epilachna genus are considered plant pests themselves.
Epilachna borealis (squash beetle) is a pest of plants in the squash family.
Similarly, the Mexican bean beetle (Epilachna varivestis) feeds on plants in the legume family.
Some ladybugs also feed on fungal growth on the leaves of plants.
Ladybugs in the Halyziini tribe tend to exhibit this type of feeding habit.
In temperate regions, ladybugs typically reproduce in summer.
Species that live in warmer regions may reproduce in spring, fall, and even winter as long as the temperatures are favorable.
Ladybug species in the tropics reproduce during the wet season.
Like other beetles, coccinellids develop from eggs into larvae, pupa, and finally adults.
It takes four weeks to go through these stages, which means they produce several generations each year.
Females typically mate with several individuals.
After mating, females lay eggs in clusters, usually in an area where their typical prey or their larvae are abundant.
The eggs are typically yellow, orange, or red.
They’re laid in groups of about five to 30.
Some females may also lay infertile eggs for the larvae to feed on when they hatch.
The larvae start feeding almost immediately when they hatch.
The larvae molt three times, which means they’ll grow through four instar stages before turning into pupae.
The duration of this stage depends on the species, but it’s typically about three weeks.
The pupa stage is largely immobile.
The ladybug remains in this stage for about seven to ten days before transforming into an adult.
After turning into adults, ladybugs may live for up to one year.
Ecological Role and Interactions:
Ladybugs occupy different trophic levels depending on their species.
Most species are predatory.
These insectivorous species occupy an important position in various ecological systems as predators of different types of soft-bodied insects.
Their most common prey include aphids, mites, scales, and mealybugs.
The predatory nature of these ladybugs makes them very valuable in farms and gardens, where they’re used as a form of biological control for various kinds of agricultural pests.
By feeding on herbivorous insects, ladybugs help maintain a balanced ecosystem.
They prevent pest populations from ballooning to levels that cause irreparable damage to plant communities within the ecosystem.
Ladybirds may also feed on mildew on plants.
Beetles with this feeding preference keep these plant fungi from overcrowding the plant and may also help keep harmful insects that are attracted to mildew away.
Some predatory species may also supplement their typical diet with some plant materials such as leaves, pollen, nectar, and honeydew.
While most ladybug species are beneficial this way, a few of them are destructive pests.
Some ladybugs (especially those in the Epilachninae subfamily) feed on legumes and squash plants.
Coccinellid adults and larvae are preyed on by various predators.
Although they have chemical secretions that protect them from many predators, different types of birds, ants, spiders, and lacewings may prey on ladybugs.
Some species of flies, mites, and ticks also use ladybugs as hosts for their larvae.
Aplomyiopsis epilachnae, a type of Aldrich tachinid fly, is one of the most prolific predators, especially of ladybugs of the Epilachna genus.
Consequently, the fly is often used to control outbreaks of Epilachna ladybirds.
The braconid wasp (Perilitus coccinellae) is another notable predator species that prey on larvae and pupae ladybirds.
The conservation status of ladybugs has not been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Several of the most famous species are abundant and found in a wide range of habitats.
However, a few species are endemic to certain areas and may be threatened locally by certain environmental or human factors.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats to coccinellids.
As global temperature continues to rise, ladybugs may produce smaller larvae and will require more energy to meet their metabolic needs.
The changing climate may also increase the risk of predation.
Agriculture and urbanization have led to the destruction of the natural habitats of ladybugs and other insects in many places, displacing the natural balance of their ecosystem.
The introduction of invasive species (other coccinellids or predatory insects) is another threat faced by coccinellids.
For instance, the multicolored Asian ladybeetle was introduced to North America about 30 years ago.
The beetle species devours the larvae of other ladybugs and has led to a drop in the number of seven-spotted ladybirds.
These invaders outcompete with and prey on native species, contributing to their local decline.
To protect threatened species in this family, conservationists recommend various measures.
This may include educating citizens on the importance of habitat preservation and encouraging them to participate in research and restoration projects.
Ladybugs are brightly colored (typically red or orange, with contrasting spots).
This type of bright coloration is known as aposematism or warning coloration.
The bright colors signal to predators that ladybirds are distasteful and not to be eaten.
Many predators stay away from ladybugs solely because of this.
If a predator ignores this warning coloration and attempts to eat the ladybird, the insect can release a fluid known as hemolymph (or insect blood).
This yellowish fluid contains toxic alkaloids such as azamacrolides, polyamines, and pyrazines.
These alkaloids are foul-smelling, bitter, and toxic, which is often enough to discourage most predators from consuming them.
Ladybugs are also quite agile.
They have three pairs of jointed legs, which are well-adapted for walking and climbing across plant surfaces with ease.
Coccinellids are also active fliers.
They can cover great distances to find suitable conditions, food, and other resources using their secondary wings.
Coccinellids are easily recognizable insects, and they hold important roles in various cultures and religions.
Ladybugs generally have a positive reputation as they are often associated with love, luck, fertility, and prophecy.
In some cultures, it is believed that a ladybug landing on a lady’s hands means she’ll find love soon.
In European folklore, ladybirds act as matchmakers, landing on women and then flying to their true love.
Coccinellids also have a prominent place in agriculture.
They are said to be capable of predicting future events, such as weather conditions and how good the harvest will be.
But their biggest use in agriculture is in pest control.
In fact, these beetles got their name because of their usefulness in the biological control of insect pests.
The name was coined by European farmers who prayed to the Virgin Mary to protect their crops from pests.
After ladybugs came and ate up aphids and other invading insects affecting these crops, the farmers named them “beetle of Our Lady.”
Consequently, many ladybug species have been introduced artificially to various places beyond their native range to assist in biological pest control.
The first instance of this being done was in 1887 when the vedalia beetle (Novius cardinalis) was introduced to California from Australia to protect citrus trees from cushion scale.
The project was remarkably successful and has been replicated in more than 29 countries with great success.
Both adult and larvae forms can be purchased for pest control purposes.
However, since lady beetles are mobile, they’ll not always hang around to eat pests.
Many efforts to introduce them as biological deterrents against insect pests fail since the beetles are highly mobile.
Coccinellids have been popular in folklore, artwork poems, and nursery rhymes.
The most famous of these rhymes is the “Ladybird! Ladybird!” nursery rhyme.
The poem reads, “Ladybug ladybug, fly away home / Your house is on fire, your children do roam.”
It refers to the practice of burning hop vines after the harvest season, which often results in the death of numerous beetles and their larvae.
In the United States, the ladybug is the official state insect of Delaware, New Hampshire, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.
The ladybug has been involved in various forms of scientific research.
Most of these research works have been focused on their potential uses as biological deterrents against notable insect pests.
NASA has even sent ladybugs to space for this purpose.
In 1999, four ladybugs and their preferred food (aphids) were sent to space for research purposes.
The purpose of this research was to find out how aphids would get away from predators in a zero-gravity environment.
In the future, there will be even more research focused on the broader ecological services provided by ladybugs beyond pest control.
This may include their role in nutrient cycling, pollination, and interactions with other species.
Such research will contribute to a more holistic understanding of the biodiversity and significance of this insect.
Another intriguing area of research for this insect is in bioinspired technology.
The unique flight adaptations of ladybugs, such as their ability to tuck their wings away when at rest and fly long distances while navigating efficiently, have inspired the development of several robotic systems with similar body models.
This can potentially contribute to fields like robotics, sensor development, and artificial intelligence.
Despite being such a tiny insect, the ladybug has made such a vast difference in the world.
Not only are they beautiful, but this insect is one of the best-known biological weapons used to protect agricultural plants from damage, saving thousands or even millions of dollars yearly.
The ladybug is a very diverse family of insects, with more than 6,000 species.
Much remains to be learned about these coccinellids and possibly many more potential applications beyond what we currently know.