What’s not to love about these charming little beetles? Birds love them, gardeners are devoted to the creatures; and children love to get up close and personal with the crimson cuties. While walking with friends at Anderson Marsh on the McVicar trail we began to note a small swarm of what we called ‘ladybugs’ flitting and flying along the trail with us. Later, we learned that insect geeks or entomologists are using the name ‘ladybird beetle’ or ‘lady beetle’ since they are not true bugs. A bug, which is a type of insect, has a three-part body and belongs to the order of insect called Hemiptera. It’s amazing to know that these creatures belong to the almost 6,000-species ladybird beetle family, or Coccinellidae. I neglected to bring my hand-lens on the hike, but these may have been convergent ladybugs, the most common species in North America. In 2019 a cluster of ladybugs, known as a bloom or a loveliness, was so large it was spotted on the National Weather Service radar in southern California. This bloom was noted at 5,000 to 9,000 feet in the air. Since California is home to around 175 species of the insect it wasn’t immediately clear which beetle species it was. When convergent lady beetles gather in a cloud like this in northern California, they typically mate and then migrate from the Sierra Nevada to various valleys below. They are not, however, named for their behavior, but for the delicate white band near their head.
Lady beetles’ life cycle is simple: eggs, larva, pupa, then, young lady beetle. An adult can lay ten to fifty eggs in a cluster each month, for one to three months. Their eggs are yellow and oblong. When the larvae emerge from the eggs, long and fierce-looking, they look nothing like lady beetles, but they commence to consuming thousands of aphids, mites, scale insects and mealy bugs. It takes several molts, or skin-shedding for them to reach the lovely little shape we know and enjoy.
These interesting little creatures hibernate over winter, often in aggregations, or groups when they hide in nooks and crannies like logs or hollow stems. In south Lake County, year after year in mid-June I have noted a bloom of lady beetles which arrive like magic, from the east and head west. If I stand with my arms outspread I am treated to a delightful polka-dot experience of little red essences that lovingly land on me before heading out on their lady beetle ways!
Gardeners understand that lady beetles, called ladybirds in many other parts of the world, are beneficial insects, as the majority of the species are, so they depend on these voracious beetles to consume aphids that can be detrimental to food and flower gardens. Many of our local garden shops stock lady beetles. Also, to encourage them to your garden plant flowers with pollen-rich blooms. They appear to take to the flat-topped flowers like marigold, yarrow, fennel and angelica which are also great companion plants that discourage ‘bad bugs’ in the garden.
Over the centuries people have been fascinated by lady beetles. Some cultures consider them as good luck, while others have created nursery rhymes and poetry around the critters. It would be sad indeed to imagine a world without these glossy, red helpers that inhabit our forests and gardens while quietly going about their little lives.