By any name, “ladybugs” do heavenly duty in the garden
(not so much in the home)
by GEORGE FREEMAN
In the Ozarks and elsewhere, ladybugs have the well-deserved reputation of being a gardener’s friend. Still, some of us may not realize why. Most of us have likely been lectured on the notion that lady bugs top the list of good bugs in the garden.
With spring officially here, the beetles are awakening. They creep around looking for light, and some find their way into our homes.
And they wake up hungry.
Still, ladybugs don’t want to be indoors and neither do we really want them here – at least, not so many. One way, then, to please both ladybugs and humans is to check and repair caulking around window and door frames or any other potential entry points. Another way is to open a window for a few minutes now and then over the next few weeks; the ladybugs will stretch their wings and be off.
Actually, “ladybug” is used to identify a number of species in the Coccinellidae family. Most have rounded bodies and easily spotted Halloween-like orange and black backsides. Some have orange with black spots, black stripes or even blotches, or even black with orange spots. Probably the most common species is the Hippodamia convergens, but you’ll find other species lurking about your flower and vegetable gardens.
A magnified view will show large, toothy mandibles, making ladybugs the highly effective nemesis of dreaded aphids, mealy bugs, scale insects and other undesirable insect pests. Ladybugs have a red, orange or yellow-orange back dotted with up to 20 dark spots if you like to count.
Just one adult ladybug can consume 60 aphids daily. Think about having Thanksgiving turkey that often. In spring and summer, ladybugs produce clusters of eggs. Their larvae also feed on aphids – just one ladybug larva may devour up to 25 aphids per day. Yummy, if you’re a ladybug offspring. (Did you know that aphids exude a sweet nectar that ants just love?)
Ladybugs acquired their names in Medieval times when these tiny beetles were considered to be divinely sent to help farmers rid their crops of pests, and thus became associated with the Virgin Mary, commonly referred to as “Our Lady.”
With no nest, ladybugs simply hang out wherever aphids and other preying insect populations are high, including gardens and the canopies of trees. With cooler fall temperatures they sometimes gather in huge swarms.
The multicolored Asian lady beetle ( yet another species of ladybug introduced for pest-control purposes) has made headlines by entering homes through cracks around doors and windows or attic vents. What a way to ruin a perfectly good bug’s reputation.
Don’t panic, even if you find ladybugs in large numbers, as they pose no serious threat to plants, pets or humans. In fact, killing them can stain carpeting or drapes.
Or periodically vacuum the ladybugs up, then empty the vacuum cleaner bag outdoors.
For those into gadgetry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a blacklight trap. Ladybugs fly toward the light, bump into smooth plastic, vertical panels, then slide through a funnel into a waiting bag, which can be emptied outdoors.
Spraying or swatting is too brutal an act to inflict on a ladybug, and is also foolish from a practical standpoint. Dead ladybugs stink and give off a yellow fluid that stains fabrics. Also, dead ladybugs attract other insects: carpet beetles, for instance, which, besides carpets and dead ladybugs, also dine on leather, soft wood, grains and many other things.
Come spring and summer, you’ll like having ladybugs around, particularly if you’re a gardener. You can learn more about insects at www.missouriconservation.org.