Ladybugs, with their fire engine red & black polka dotted wings have been loved for generations of gardeners in the country & the city alike. They have been written about in children’s literature, have been the subject of many an art project, and have been searched for under garden leaves by thousands of children in garden mini beast hunts. Ladybugs play an important role in pollination and curbing aphid populations.
There are 5000 different species of ladybugs worldwide and 300 different species in North America alone. They are known as ‘foliage dwellers’ – meaning that they like to live among the leaves of trees, shrubs, flowers, forests, fields, and weed patches.
Not all ladybugs are red with 8 black spots like the ones we know so well. They can be yellow, white, orange, brown, pink, and all black. They can have no spots, a few spots, and up to 24 spots. And instead of spots, some have stripes. Crazy, hey?
Ladybugs have 3 protective mechanisms:
- The type of coloring with bright colors and spots, like the ladybugs we see in our neighbourhoods, is called aposematic coloration. It is a defense that warns predators of their bad taste.
- Ladybugs have another defense typical of beetles, called thanatosis. Thanatosis is a way of playing dead. When beetles, and specifically ladybugs, sense danger they back flop to the ground landing on their backs, exposing their black bellies, and play dead. They are very hard to see camouflaged against the soil.
- Also when threatened, ladybugs secrete a yellow very foul tasting substance called hemolymph that is unappealing to predators. It even smells bad – have you ever had a ladybug leak some of this onto your palm? Birds are their largest group of predators, that’s why they spend so much time on the underside of the leaves.
As mentioned earlier, ladybugs are actually beetles. Here is why:
- They have 3 distinct body parts:
- with antennae
- and mandibles (mouths) that bite & chew their food.
- wings and jointed legs are attached to this segment
- They eat both plant and animal material, a trait called omnivorous
- Their favorite food is aphids – that’s why we love them in our gardens so much! It’s estimated that ladybugs eat 5000 aphids in their lifetime – they eat up to 400 in the first 2 weeks of their life as they develop from larva to adult. Ladybugs also eat fruit flies, thrips, mites, mealybugs, bollworms, broccoli worms, cabbage moths, and tomato hornworms. Some types of ladybugs eat pollen & mildew, and they have also been known to be cannibalistic, meaning that they will eat some of their own.
- The kind of wings they have –
- They have 2 pairs of wings, one outer stiff set and an inner set that fold inside called hind wings.
- National Geographic has an aaa-mazing video on YouTube of a ladybug folding its wings – it’s worth the 1½ minutes to view it
- They go through a full metamorphosis in their life cycle
- Ladybugs morph from egg to adult in about 21 days and generally live for 3-9 months.
So how can we get more ladybugs into our yards?
First thing, let’s talk about the need to stop using pesticides: chemical, natural, OR organic. Most pesticides advertise that they are safe to use are speaking of safety for the adults, but they kill the babies and other stages of development that are more sensitive. The best way to combat pests when you’d like to encourage ladybugs is to have a clean, weed controlled, healthy, well mulched garden. This will go a looong way to preventing garden pests from taking over your garden
About winter hibernation – Ladybugs hibernate outdoors in:
- hollow stems
- under leaves, and
- amongst garden mulch.
Leaving organic matter in your garden through the winter encourages them to stay, so don’t cut down your perennials in the fall, and allow them to drop their leaves where they stand. Another thing to do is to keep your gardens well mulched.
About Actively Growing Gardens
Ladybugs are attracted to pollen, flowers & herbs. Having a yard full of foliage and pollen is the best way to persuade them to take up residence. They love trees and shrubs and are attracted to the pollens of flowers and herbs – take a peek at the chart below which we have divided into their favorite herbs, annuals and perennials.
Plants That Attract Ladybugs
- Geraniums scented & unsented
Come in or give us a call @ 780-467-3091 or email us via our contact form on our website and we can help you find the plants listed in the chart above in the herb, annual, and perennial departments of our sales greenhouse.
– by Sharon Wallish Murphy