Known as ladybugs, lady beetles, or ladybirds (Brit.), these voracious feeders are a welcome site in any garden.
Members of the Coccinellidae (Co-see-nell-e-day) family, they are not true bugs at all. True bugs have piercing and sucking mouthparts, wings that are membranous or hardened only at the base, and they are born as miniature adults. Lady beetles (the correct name) have grasping jaws, a hard shell, and they go through distinct developmental stages. The ladybug of your childhood is actually a beetle.
Lady beetle development
Lady beetles go through four distinct stages of development called instars. Each of these instars look very different. This is called complete metamorphosis.
*The number of spots on the insect's back does not indicate its age. Coloration and spot arrangement are determined by species and genetics.
Lady beetle diet
Over the course of its life, a single lady beetle may eat 5,000 aphids. They also eat alfalfa weevils, asparagus beetle larvae, bean thrips, chinch bugs, Colorado potato beetle larvae, grape rootworms, mealybugs, mites, scale insects, spider mites, and whiteflies.
Being voracious feeders, lady beetles also eat lacewing larvae and other soft-bodied beneficials. They will even eat other lady beetles. There are also vegetarian lady beetle species which feed on mildew, fungi, or plants.
To buy or not to buy
Many novice gardeners buy lady beetles, but this is unnecessary. If a garden has aphids, lady beetles will find them. You can attract lady beetles by planting brightly colored flowers and other insectary plants that provide food, shelter, and landing zones for lady beetles and other beneficials. Also, avoid using broad spectrum chemical pesticides.
Lady beetle anatomy
Lady beetles have a protective exoskeleton made out of a protein much like our hair and fingernails. They have 3 main body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen.
Thorax - strong muscles that control the legs and wings
Abdomen - contains organs for digestion, reproduction and respiration [Adult lady beetles breathe air through body openings, called spiracles, on the sides of the abdomen and thorax.]
Lady beetle species
There are more than 4,500 species of lady beetle worldwide, with nearly 200 species in California. These include:
Most lady beetles are beneficial insects. The Mexican bean beetle is a close cousin and it destroys many bean crops. Mexican bean beetles are orange with 8 black spots and they interfere with photosynthesis by turning leaves into lacework. Also, introduction of the Asian Harlequin variety of lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) has been devastating to native populations.
Like skunks and the Monarch butterfly, the familiar bright coloration is a warning to predators. Lady beetles can secrete an alkaloid toxin from the joints in their legs which tastes awful. This behavior is called “reflex bleeding”.
Did you know that a threatened lady beetle may also play dead to protect itself? I didn't either.
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