Why Are Ladybugs Swarming? 7 Dec 2016

A week ago swarms of small, orange and black spotted ladybugs were flying and crawling all over the outside of our house, and they’re still coming in droves. Have they changed their diet to eating bricks? What’s up?

In case you hadn’t noticed by our deceptively warm weather, winter’s on our doorsteps. Officially winter begins on 21 December 2016 and ends on 19 March 2017. It’s getting cooler. Ladybugs are a little like cotton boll weevils – “jest lookin’ fer a home” where they can be snug and safe during cold weather.

However, they may be overly worried. (Do ladybugs worry?) It may be warmer this winter. But they still go through their emergency preparedness planning anyway. You may find then camping under the eaves of your house in huge numbers or other sheltered places. In mountain areas, I have seen congregations of ladybugs the size of a basketball, jammed into rock holes and hollow trees 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 – there were about 40 million of them in that convocation.

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 more before it lays its eggs. During its lifetime, a single ladybug may eat as many as 5,000 aphids.

You can actually buy live ladybugs from many dealers on the Web. At Amazon.com they sell 300 for about $6.00, or about $155 a gallon (about 72,000), a quantity reputed to treat ten to twenty acres of land. Stored in the refrigerator, they are usually released during spring. However, the newly freed beetle army is not very disciplined and often tends to fly off to other locations rather than confining themselves just to the buyer’s garden.

Even writers and poets are intrigued by ladybugs. When you were just a tyke did your mother ever recite “Ladybug, ladybug/Fly away home/Your house is on fire/Your children will burn”?

There’s also a longer version called The Ballad of a Ladybug written by Cornelia Channing Ward in 1911.

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! 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 good 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, and if it crawls across your hand, you’ll marry within a year.

So, welcome these colorful insect residents of the fields and forests 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 paulrisk2@gmail.com to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.