Ladybugs, also called lady beetles or ladybirds, can be a gardener's best friend. The ladybug's bright coloring brings welcomed cheer to the garden, as well as helping with pest control. Since medieval times, ladybugs have been valued by farmers all over the world. Many believe that the ladybug was divinely sent to free crops of insect pests. In fact, that is how the ladybug got its name. People dedicated the bug to the Virgin Mary and therefore called it "The Bug of our Lady", which was eventually shortened to the present name "ladybug".
Adult ladybugs are usually oval or domed shaped and have red wings, yellow wings or shades and variations of these colors. The number of black spots can range from no spots to 15 spots and they are typically about one quarter inch in size or smaller.
The length of the life cycle of a ladybug varies depending upon temperature, humidity, and food supply. Usually the life cycle from egg to adult is about three to four weeks, and up to six weeks during the cooler spring months. During the spring the adult female ladybug can lay up to three hundred eggs in an aphid colony. The eggs normally hatch in two to five days. The newly hatched larvae feed on aphids for up to three weeks and then enter the pupae stage. About one week later, the adult ladybug emerges. There can be as many as six generations of ladybugs hatched in a year.
The ladybug enjoys popularity around the world. These pretty insects have long been considered a symbol of good luck and fortune because of their ability to eat an enormous amount of aphids. One ladybug can eat as many as 50 to 60 aphids per day. Aphids (also called plant lice) are herbivores and are one of the worst groups of pests on plants. They feed in colonies and damage plants by sucking the juice out of the leaves, stems, or roots. While aphids feed, they damage plant tissue creating a loss of plant fluids and the photosynthetic tissue needed to produce energy for plant growth. Some plants will show no adverse response to aphids, while others react with twisted, curled or swollen leaves or stems. Aphids also transmit many plant diseases from one plant to another.
Apart from aphids, ladybugs eat a variety of other insects and larvae including white flies, mealy bugs, spider mites, and other types of soft-bodied insects. They also require a source of pollen for food and for that reason are attracted to certain types of plants. Their preferred plants have umbrella shaped flowers such as dill, fennel, angelica, tansy, caraway, cilantro, yarrow, and wild carrot. Other plants that attract ladybugs include cosmos (especially the white ones), dandelions, coreopsis, and scented geraniums.
If your garden does not have adequate space to plant ladybug attracting plants, you can purchase ladybugs from numerous websites on the internet and most nurseries. Before releasing them into your garden, here are a few tips to help ensure that the ladybugs stay where you want them:
1. Release ladybugs near infested plants after sun down or before sun up. They navigate by the sun and are most likely to stay put in the evenings and early mornings.
2. Water the area where you are going to release the ladybugs. They will appreciate the drink and the moisture on the leaves will help the ladybugs to "stick" on the plants. If released in a dry garden, the ladybugs will most likely fly off in search of a drink instead of sticking around to eat.
3. In the warmer months, chill the ladybugs in the refrigerator before releasing them. This will not harm the ladybugs and they tend to crawl more in colder temperatures rather than fly away.
Another way to attract ladybugs to your garden is to place several ladybug habitation boxes around your garden. Fill the boxes with organic material such as peat or compost to encourage ladybugs to roost and lay eggs inside the box. In addition, the habitation box also provides protection for the ladybugs in the winter months.
To further promote ladybug populations, consider cutting back on spraying insecticides in your garden. Ladybugs are sensitive to most synthetic insecticides and if the majority of their food source is gone, they will not lay their eggs and therefore will not continue to populate.
Here are some interesting ladybug facts:
- There are nearly 5,000 different kinds of ladybugs worldwide and 400 which live in North America.
- A female ladybug will lay more than 1000 eggs in her lifetime.
- A ladybug beats its wings 85 times a second when it flies.
- A gallon jar will hold from 72,000 to 80,000 ladybugs.
- Ladybugs make a chemical that smells and tastes terrible so that birds and other predators won't eat them.
- The spots on a ladybug fade as the ladybug gets older.
- Ladybugs won't fly if the temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The ladybug is the official state insect of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Tennessee.
As you can see, the ladybug is one of the most effective and economically important insects to have in your garden. In some cultures, seeing ladybugs in gardens indicates a bountiful harvest, an indication of good weather or a good luck omen. Create an alluring environment for ladybugs and they are sure to provide charm and pest control in your garden for years to come.
Lesley Dietschy is a freelance writer and the creator/editor of The Home Decor Exchange and the Home & Garden Exchange. The Home Decor Exchange is a popular home and garden website featuring resources, articles, decorating pictures, free projects, and a shopping marketplace. The Home & Garden Exchange website is a link exchange program and directory dedicated to the home and garden industry, as well as offering free website content and promotional ideas. Please visit both websites for all of your home, garden, and website needs.