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.
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.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!