An insect with all virtues and no vices is the ladybug, that diminutive beetle whose back is a brilliant orange with black spots.
That is, to say, she has no vices from the human standpoint. Instead, she eats hundreds of plant-destructive aphids in her lifetime (“her” also includes him).
Turn one ladybug loose on a lice-infested blossom, and in less time than you can mow a small plot of grass, she will have devoured all the aphids in her range of vision.
It is almost unbelievable that such a small, dainty creature can eat so ravenously.
While poison sprays are effective killers, they leave patches of insect corpses that turn brown or cause disfiguration on flower petals.
On the other hand, the ladybug leaves only clean blossoms.
One might think that an insect with such a voracious appetite would bite or sting a human being out of meanness or fear. Not so, with this graceful little hexapod!
She makes a charming pet for small children, affectionately crawling up or down a human arm.
Her six short legs and two inquisitive feelers will tickle the underside of a child’s wrist, but nothing more harmful than that.
Lady Bugs Have Remarkable Stamina
The ladybug has remarkable stamina, too. So often, I find lady-bird beetles trapped in our tile-edged pool.
Sometimes they swim for hours without finding a leaf raft, long enough to kilt most insects.
When I fish one out, she rests on my hand for a few moments. Then she will lift one waterlogged wing, stretching it as far as she can, and then try the other in calm persistence until both are dry.
Occasionally, she remains to explore the moving mass of land, my arm, but more often, she will fly away to tend to her duties, unconcerned that she has just had a dangerous adventure.
A Remedy For Aphid Plague
One spring, aphids reached plague proportions. Spraying the tender rose shoots with the usual poison did not discourage the sap robbers, even though we kept after them every day or so.
After we had all but given up hope of picking an unblemished rose that season, suddenly hundreds of ladybugs invaded, like an army of housewives, out to rid a city of vice.
To our great joy, a short time later, the aphids disappeared.
Ladybugs are most abundant in spring and fall. In late fall, some species congregate, often high in the mountains, to prepare for winter hibernation.
The following spring, they return to lay eggs and feed on the new crop of aphids.
Actually, there are many species of ladybugs. The most common color, those that are the best aphid eaters, range from yellow to rusty red, with and without black spots. Their legs are black.
Mexican Bean Beetle “Black Sheep Of The Ladybug Family”
Curiously, one member of the ladybug family is considered a “black sheep,” namely the Mexican bean beetle.
A vegetarian, she is yellow, with large black spots and light-colored legs.
Fortunately, however, this pest is not notorious or numerous enough to darken the reputation of the whole tribe, whose biological name is Coccinellidae.
For a change in diet, or when aphids are not available, ladybugs eat the other pests:
- Scale insects
- Other garden pests
Yet nature has equipped these insect eaters with a hard shell of armor, similar to a turtle’s back, and a secretive poison bitter to many of the larger creatures that might choose a meal of ladybugs.
If you ever find yellow-orange eggs in clusters on the underside of a leaf and do not know what they are, they may be a new brood of ladybird beetles.
If they are, the eggs will hatch into ugly, thick larvae. They will be black, speckled with red, yellow, or blue, and look a little like minute caterpillars, but they have appetites the same as their parents.
Each larva will attach itself to a leaf, shed its skin to become an adolescent ladybug or pupa, and finally transform into one of the prettiest and most friendly insects known a ladybug.