We love ladybugs for their charming black spots, bright red shells and their promise to bring good luck. Though it turns out that it’s not just superstition– ladybugs are quite magical in many ways.
The most commonly accepted legend regarding how these charismatic beetles earned their name began during the Middle Ages when pests were destroying crops. The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary and when the red beetles with the black spots began to appear, the crops were miraculously saved from the pests, thus earning the charming critter the name “ladybug” for its crop saving abilities!
Why do ladybugs make for good company in a garden? Farmers and gardeners love ladybugs for their appetite. Ladybugs love to eat aphids and other plant-eating insects, such as scales and mites. In doing so, they help plants thrive. These hungry ladies can eat up to 5,000 pests in their lifetime! Ladybugs do such a good job that farmers may even use them for pest control instead of chemicals–something that The Watershed Project encourages as part of an integrated pest management strategy that makes good use of natures’ friendly workers rather than chemicals in our watersheds.
Despite their name, not all ladybugs are ladies–though it is quite difficult to distinguish the male from the female. Also, contrary to common belief you cannot tell a ladybug’s age by counting its spots. Though it still may be fun to count them, and sometimes you can determine the ladybug’s species by taking note of the number and position of those markings.
There are over 5,000 different species of ladybugs worldwide and they come in different shades of red, yellow, orange, gray, black, brown and pink. Though their bright colors are attractive to us, they repel predators by warning that the ladybug tastes bad.
Ladybugs love to live in all sorts of habitats including forests, cities, grasslands and along rivers. You will see them most in the spring, summer and fall, while they turn to hibernation during cold weather.
We are lucky to have plenty of ladybugs fluttering about in gardens in the springtime, not just as beautiful company, but also for helping our plants. So the next time a ladybug lands on you with a gift of good luck, remember to thank her (or him) for helping our gardens grow.