Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > June 2014 > BONNIE-S GARDEN--Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home...

BONNIE-S GARDEN--Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home...

Ladybugs are a family of small beetles.  They may be yellow, orange, red, even white or black.  A good number of species have stripes or spots on the wings.  Their botanical name, coccinellidae, means small red sphere.  Legend has it that in the Middle Ages, farmers in Europe were inundated with insects that were destroying their crops.  They prayed to Mary to help them and little beetles showed up and ate all the bad bugs.  What’s more, the beetles were red—like Mary’s cloak—and had seven spots on each wing—memorializing Mary’s Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows.  They called them “Beetles of Our Lady” or “Lady Beetles.”  The German word for ladybug means “Mary’s Beetle.”  In some areas, they were known as “Lady Birds.”

In more recent times—and this is not a legend—in the late eighteen hundreds, California citrus growers were inundated with an insect pest called Cottony Cushion scale.  They brought in ladybugs who got rid of the scale and saved the California citrus industry. 

Most ladybugs are voracious predators with a fondness for aphids and scale insects, though they’ll eat almost any insect. They may, from time to time, nibble on a little nectar or pollen as well.  There are even ladybugs that eat fungus and mildew.  There are, however, a few sub-species that are not quite so desirable—the Mexican bean beetle, for example. 

When a female ladybug has mated, she’ll lay her oval yellow eggs in clusters of 20 to 50—usually on a plant with suitable prey for the larvae to eat when they hatch four or five days later.  The larvae look a little like spiny alligators with black and yellow or orange markings.  They are voracious feeders and will eat almost any insect.  Because the larvae look so different from the adults, some gardeners will destroy them so it’s a good idea to look up what they look like.  These hungry little guys can eat up to 5000 aphids before they pupate and hibernate over the winter so are well worth saving.

Ladybugs go through four larval stages, each time shedding their skin.  After the fourth stage, they find a leaf or twig to attach to and pupate over the winter.  They hatch in the spring, hungry and ready to mate.

Some people want to send away for ladybugs to release in their gardens.  If you decide to do this, there are several things to keep in mind.  First, be sure to look for ladybugs that are native to our area.  Some companies will send Asian ladybugs.  Introducing a non-native species can create problems with our native ladybugs.  Second, be sure you get “pre-conditioned” ladybugs.  These are ladybugs that have been fed as soon as they hatched.  This makes them less likely to disperse when released.  When your ladybugs arrive, release them as soon as possible—preferably in the evening.  Mist your garden well first so they have a ready water source.  Remember that ladybugs go where food is plentiful so getting them as a preventative measure does not work as they will move on to find food.

In my yard, whenever I see them, I simply move them to any plant I know has an insect problem.  “Eat up!”

Posted: 6/28/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 2 comment(s)
Comments
Bonnie Pega
I do tend to gently relocate them to my "trouble" spots--usually a few aphids on my Knock-Out.
7/12/2014 12:20:37 PM

Laura
How interesting this article was about ladybugs. They are a gardener's friend. If I see any in my yard they are going to be placed on my rosebush which the bugs strip of all flowers and greenery.
7/3/2014 9:41:31 AM

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