Ladybugs – Dainty Voracious Predators 9 Aug 2012

Ladybug beetles go by various names around the world and back into antiquity. Known as “Lord God’s Little Fatty” in Switzerland, “Flower Lady” in China, and “Moses Cow” in Hebrew, larval and adult ladybugs are voracious predators and eat aphids, mealybugs, spider mites and other garden pests during the summer.

An Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet reports that one ladybug larva will eat about 400 aphids during its development, and an adult will account for 300 before it lays its eggs. During its lifetime, a single ladybug may eat as many as 5,000 aphids. So if you have them in your garden, consider yourself lucky.

Each fall, adult ladybugs gather together, sometimes in huge numbers, to find hollow trees, abandoned buildings, and rock crevices, where they enter a semi-hibernation called diapause. Their life processes slow down markedly to reduce their need for food and there they stay until spring, re-emerging to begin propagating their species again.

In mountain areas, I have seen congregations of ladybugs the size of a basketball, jammed into rock holes awaiting spring. There are reports of up to 500 gallons of these tiny insects in a single location. If that’s true, a single gallon of ladybugs is made up of from 72,000 to 80,000 individuals, so there were about 40 million of them in that convocation. Imagine how many more there are in the world.

Some dealers collect ladybugs from their winter hiding places, package them and offer them for sale to gardeners to spread on their property like insect-eating, six-legged Doberman Pinchers. They sell for about $100 a gallon, a quantity reputed to effectively treat ten to twenty acres of land. Stored in the refrigerator, they are usually released during spring. However, the newly freed beetle army is often not very disciplined and often tends to fly off to other locations rather than confining themselves only to the buyer’s garden.

A common nursery rhyme known by mothers and small children in many countries says:

Ladybug, ladybug,
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire,
Your children will burn.

A longer version entitled The Ballad of a Ladybug, written by Cornelia Channing Ward in 1911, goes into more detail.

In a neat little hole in an old oak tree,
A Lady Bug lived with her babies three.
She taught them good manners – to dance & to sing.
And to play the nice game of ‘Twiddle-the-Wing.’
She thought each day as she flew from her home,
‘Far out in the great big world I will roam.’
But someone would whisper wherever she’d turn,
Your house is on fire! You children will burn!’

Then back she would sail in a trembling fright
To find there, instead of a terrible plight,
Her babies disporting themselves on a twig –
Not dreaming of danger nor caring a fig.
While the snug little home in the old oak tree.
Was fireproof still, as a home should be.
Then why should they whisper each way that she’d turn –
‘Your house is on fire! Your children will burn!’

The Lady Bug thought, ‘Some wisdom I’ll show,’
Said she, ‘I will take them wherever I go.
If out in the world they are flying with me,
I can let [rent out] the snug home in the old oak tree,
And when the pink hedge-rose shall come into bloom,
We’ll live in a villa of sweetest perfume;
And never again need I hear as I turn,
‘Your house is on fire! Your children will burn!’

Need some luck? Ladybugs are believed to bring it. Love and health have also long been topics of ladybug predictions. If a ladybug lands on you, you’ll soon find love. Catch one, if you’re a young lady, and if it crawls across your hand, you’ll marry within a year. Doctors once used ladybugs as a treatment for measles, presumably because of their spots, and dentists packed them into cavities to treat toothaches. Enameled and painted ladybugs adorn ladies’ dresses and blouses, and ride on pins, bracelets and necklaces.

So, this summer, welcome these colorful visitors and treat them with kindness. Who knows what blessings they may bring to you and yours.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.