Ladybugs, also called lady beetles and ladybird beetles in some places, are mostly beneficial insects that prey on a variety of garden pests. In many places around the world, ladybugs are considered bringers of luck. But what do you really know about them besides that they have round bodies and spots? This article will cover their life cycle, diet, habitat, defense mechanisms, what to do if they become a pest, and even a few fun facts.
What do Ladybugs Look Like?
Ladybugs belong to the beetle family. There are over 4,500 known species of ladybugs around the world. They are small and most species are round to oval in shape and can be yellow, orange, red, or black. Most species have black spots on their wings, but some don’t have spots at all.
Their bright colors warn predators off — when they’re disturbed, ladybugs produce a foul-smelling chemical that other animals find unpleasant.
Ladybugs have three body sections, the head, thorax, and abdomen. Ladybugs use their antennae to feel and their feet to smell. They have six legs and two pairs of wings: one set, the elytra, is the hard outer wing that protects the flight wings underneath. During flight, the elytra lifts up and the inner wings unfold, flapping 85 times per second to stay airborne.
What is their Life Cycle Like?
Ladybugs have four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
Egg. Female ladybugs usually lays eggs on the underside of a leaf near a source of food, like an aphid colony. The eggs are yellow in color and will hatch in about 5 to 8 days.
Larva. Ladybug larvae look a little like tiny alligators. They have long bodies and are usually black with yellow spots.
This stage lasts for 2 to 4 weeks. During that time, the larva will feed on aphids — a single ladybug larva can eat between 300 and 400 aphids during this stage! They also shed their skin frequently as they grow. Once they reach the right size, they attach themselves to a leaf and pupate.
Pupa. This stage takes about a week. The larva develops a hard case and enters a resting phase while they mature. When they emerge, they will be adults and ready to continue eating aphids.
Adult. Most adult ladybugs live for about a year. Within that year, a mature female ladybug will lay its eggs, up to 300 of them, continuing the life cycle for this insect species. And a single ladybug can eat 5,000 aphids during their lifetime.
Diet: What Do Ladybugs Eat?
Most ladybugs eat aphids, even when they’re still larvae. A mature ladybug can even eat about 75 aphids a day, but this is not the only thing they eat. Sometimes, they also consume soft-bodied insects like mites and ticks. It’s for this reason ladybugs are considered beneficial.
But not all ladybugs are carnivorous. While most do eat aphids, some eat plants. Some even eat fungi, pollen and mildew.
Habitat: Where Do Ladybugs Live? Where Can I Find Them?
You can find ladybugs in many different habitats. They survive and thrive in many places all over the world. They can prosper in most climates — the only exceptions are places with extreme temperatures.
The exact places to find them vary depending on the season. But if your garden is overrun with aphids, you can buy ladybugs from most garden centers, too.
Fun Fact: Ladybugs have even been to space. According to the San Diego Zoo, four ladybugs and a jar of aphids were carried into space on a space shuttle to test the effects of zero gravity on their movement. Turns out, they don’t need gravity to capture aphids.
Ladybugs diapuse, or hibernate. During the winter, they gather together under leaf litter and other sheltered places to ride out the cold temperatures. They can survive for up to 9 months on stored energy and will break out of diapuse once temperatures rise above 55 degrees F again.
Typically, throughout the rest of the year, you’ll find them in places with a lot of vegetation. You’ll find them in gardens, near small shrubs, in orchards, on farms, and in the forest.
What are Ladybugs Attracted to?
Food. Ladybugs generally flock to an area where there’s an abundance of food. This is especially true during mating and egg laying seasons.
Warmth. Near the end of fall, ladybugs will look for a place to diapuse. They usually diapuse under leaf litter and other naturally protected areas, but in urban areas they can gravitate towards houses too.
Other ladybugs. Ladybugs secrete pheromones that other ladybugs pick up on. Even their defensive secretions release pheromones, so don’t be surprised if they tend to group up together.
Do Ladybugs Cause Any Problems?
Ladybugs are generally beneficial, eating aphids and other common garden pests. But even good insects can cause problems.
Do Ladybugs Bite?
Yes, ladybugs do bite humans, but this happens so rarely that you don’t have to worry about it too much. In fact, similar to many insects, they’d rather hide and steer clear of any creature they perceive as a predator — humans included.
How Do Ladybugs Defend Themselves?
Ladybugs have a number of defense mechanisms that help them survive. One mechanism is their bright coloring, which warns other animals that they won’t taste good. Some species of ladybug have coloring that mimics poisonous insects.
They also secrete a foul-smelling substance when disturbed. This substance doesn’t taste great either, so even if another animal is tempted to eat a ladybug once, they may not do so a second time.
When the first two mechanisms fail, ladybugs might also play dead. Usually, predators won’t try to hunt for non-moving things, so this is an effective method ladybugs use to avoid being eaten.
Are Ladybugs Poisonous?
No, these insects are not poisonous to humans, but you probably wouldn’t want to eat them. You don’t have to worry too much about venom when they bite you either.
The real danger in their bites come from the possibility of it causing an allergic reaction. If you’re allergic to insect bites, steer clear of doing anything that may cause a ladybug to bite you.
Are any Ladybugs Harmful?
Most ladybugs are welcome garden inhabitants. However, there are some species that feed on plants, destroying crops in the process, like Asian lady beetles.
Asian lady beetles will move on to still-ripening fruit and other garden plants once aphids are no longer available. While they usually only infest fruit that is already wounded, they are also a concern for wine makers.
Because of the foul-smelling compound they secrete when disturbed, even a few Asian lady beetles that get into the grapes during processing can foul the flavor of the wine.
These ladybugs can also bite or pinch you when they land on you, even sometimes breaking skin. But they’re not venomous — just irritating.
The Asian lady beetle looks similar to the common ladybug most people recognize, but it has one distinctive feature that can help you identify it. Unlike the common ladybug, Asian lady beetles sport a unique “M”-shaped or “W”-shaped marking just below their heads.
Do Ladybugs Infest Homes?
During the winter months when ladybugs are looking for a spot to diapuse, they may decide that your home is an attractive option. One ladybug inside may not be that big a deal, but a swarm of them can be problematic.
Why Do Ladybugs Enter a House?
Generally, ladybugs like to stay outside, near plants and vegetation. That’s where they can find food. However, before winter comes along, these insects will look for shelter where they can stay for the duration of the entire season. They’ll swarm to warm places where they’re protected from the harsh elements, including your home if they can get inside.
Luckily, they’re not like ants or termites — you’ll notice right away if they’ve come inside. Ladybugs diapuse in groups, so spotting a swarm near your roof or ceiling, means you probably have an infestation.
Should I Get Rid of the Ladybugs?
Maybe. If they’re the kind of ladybug that eats aphids, and they’re not in the way, leaving them be may be the easiest option. They’re generally harmless insects that need a place to stay for the cold winter months, and they will voluntarily leave once they break from diapuse.
And trying to remove them from that clump on the wall might be more of a hassle. You could try vacuuming them up and releasing them back outside, but they’ll likely leave a yellow stain when you disturb them.
If having a ladybug infestation inside your home is too much for you to tolerate, you can also call an exterminator. In addition to removing ladybugs from your home, they will be able to offer tips to help you avoid future infestations. But the best offense is probably a good defense in this instance.
How can I Avoid an Infestation?
Seal up entrances. One of the best ways to avoid a ladybug infestation in your own home is to keep them out. Make sure to seal all possible entrances they might take advantage of. Fix cracks in your walls, and make sure to install screens on your windows and doors. Also, make sure the screen mesh you use has holes that are small enough to prevent these tiny beetles from squeezing their way inside.
Use olfactory deterrents. Strong scents like citronella can help mask pheromones from other ladybugs. Spices like cloves and bay leaves can also help repel ladybugs. Place sachets around your house to better diffuse the scent. You can also try planting and keeping Chrysanthemums around your house since ladybugs dislike the smell of this flower.
Use a light trap. Ladybugs are attracted to light, which you can use to your advantage. Light traps can help control ladybug populations around your house, though they’re not always effective.