Ladybugs aren’t really bugs at all

Published 7:30 am Saturday, January 22, 2022

I was deep into John Grisham’s book, The Painted House when something buzzed by me. It flew so fast, I hardly had a glimpse of it. If it followed the pattern of small insects like flies, mosquitoes or gnats, I knew it would return, so I waited. It reappeared and landed–small body, red shell looking back with black dots.  Yes, a ladybug! A beetle.

My son caught it in some soft paper and carried it outside. They don’t harm people, according to experts. If they bite, it would be so tiny it would be insignificant. By the way, we refer to them as bugs. They aren’t. They are beetles. In my research, I found that they bleed from their knees when threatened. Have you ever seen a ladybug’s knees?

Those red and black colors? We think they are pretty. But its predators don’t. Those colors warn them to stay away. There is a yellow substance that smells bad and is important in keeping their seekers away.

What do ladybugs eat? They feed on various insects with soft bodies. One of the good things about the ladybug is they eat plant pests. Gardeners love them. They consume white flies, mites and aphids. When they are in the larvae stage they eat pests by the hundreds.

If you have seen caterpillars that emerge as beautiful butterflies, you might not be surprised to find that ladybug larvae look kind of like small alligators with long abdomens and legs that protrude from their sides. Their larvae feed for about a month, consuming hundreds of insects, including their favorite aphids. Ladybugs themselves eat along with aphids, their main course.

I once found wads of dead ladybugs on a windowsill in an unused room. Maybe they were in a group that hibernated near the window and got trapped so they could not get to any sunshine. Sometimes when they can’t find food, they wind up eating each other—terrible, even if they are just beetles. Evidentially extremely hungry ones will eat any soft-bodied insect or sibling it manages to catch. Sometimes they will chew eggs or pupae for protein if nothing else is available.

Maybe as a child, you counted those black spots on a ladybug’s back. You might have heard you could determine their age by the spots. Sorry, not true.

Ladybugs live all over the world except in northern regions. There are about 5,000 different species. They have two pairs of eyes with only one pair used for flying. The front wings are strong and protect the back ones. The ladybug beats its wings about 5100 times a minute. When flying that figures to be about 85 beats a second. Ladybugs have to be on the look-out for dangers they encounter. Probably the most dangerous are birds. Frogs, wasps, spiders, and dragonflies also are a threat.

We have not seen a couple of ladybugs in the past few days. Fortunately, I have not been pestered by them as I continue to read The Painted House.