Ladybugs in the garden

The no-spotted ladybug (Cycloneda polita) , native to North America

The no-spotted ladybug (Cycloneda munda) , native to North America

There are thousands of species of ladybugs (family Coccinellidae) across the world, with over 450 different species native to North America.  They come in a range of colors including orange, red, yellow, pink, brown or black.  They can have many spots, few spots or no spots at all.  We see their cute likeness on everything from consumer products to company logos.  We know them best as ladybugs, but other countries call them ladybirds.  Scientists (ever the sticklers for proper terminology) prefer to call them lady beetles since they do not fall into the category of “true bugs” in terms of entomology.

2 Ladybug_eggs

Ladybug eggs are yellow and found “glued” to plants in small groups.

In the following photo you can see the newborn ladybug larvae as they emerge from their eggs.   They look a bit like aliens from a sci-fi movie.  It’s amazing that they are all folded up inside those tiny eggs!

3 ladybug babies crop

Here they are just a few hours old and still hanging around their empty eggshells.  Notice that they are the same size as the light-colored aphid in the lower right side of the photo.

4 ladybug babies

Of course we all know that ladybugs are beneficial to our gardens because they eat aphids and other soft-bodied insect pests that suck the sap from our plants.

Sometimes the mature ladybug larvae are called little alligators.

Sometimes the mature ladybug larvae are called little alligators.

Non-natives like the Asian lady beetle can out-compete our native species to the point of endangering their populations.  They also try to bully their way into our homes to keep warm during the winter months.  Please avoid purchasing ladybugs to release into your garden if you are not sure what species they are.  When ladybugs run out of other food sources they resort to eating each other.  In the next photo you can see a ladybug larva eating a ladybug pupa.  I don’t know if the pupa on the right was spared, or if it became the next meal.

6 ladybug cannibal

Once the larva is mature it anchors itself to a leaf by its rear end to shed its skin and reveal the pupa underneath… a very similar process to that of a caterpillar becoming a chrysalis.

7 Ladybug_pre-pupa

The skin splits behind the head first and is wiggled all the way down to the leaf so the beetle can finish its metamorphosis inside the shell of the pupa.

8 Ladybug_pupa_

The next photo shows a ladybug freshly emerged from its pupa (which it is standing on) before its wings have dried and folded under the wing covers (elytra).  It can take several hours for the beetle’s color and spots to develop.

9 ladybug newly emerged

Did you know that some ladybugs supplement their diet with pollen, nectar, fungi and aphid honeydew?  This makes them potential pollinators, an added bonus as beneficial insects.

Notice the pollen grains sticking to its legs and mouth parts.

Notice the pollen grains sticking to its legs and mouth parts.

I’m no expert in identifying all the different species of ladybugs.  I do know that the pronotum – the area behind the head – is the place to look for clues.  In the Asian ladybug, this area is white and may be marked with a black “M” or “W” shape.  Sometimes the dots are not quite merged into the letter shape as the following photo shows.

11 ladybug

Here are a few more photos of ladybugs I’ve seen in my beautiful wildlife garden.

13 ladybug

10 ladybug

14 ladybug

Here is a link to a very informative article about ladybugs written by Beatriz Moisset:


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  1. Marilyn says

    Fascinating article, beautiful photos. As with Ruth, above, now I can look for ladybugs in their various life stages.


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