Ladybugs are not bugs; they are beetles. They are also vicious predators–the good kind. Ladybugs love to devour aphids and scale insects, two common and harmful garden pests.
Ladybugs are easily recognized. They have bright red to orange dome-shaped bodies commonly adorned with black dots. Ladybugs are small; they are 0.06 to 0.4 inches (1-10 mm) long. They are often seen during the warm months of the year crawling on flowers and leaves in search of aphids to eat.
Ladybugs are found around the world. There are more than 5,000 species of ladybugs. They live in gardens, meadows, fields, trees, and shrubs. They can even be found on beaches and in homes. Ladybugs are also known as ladybirds, ladybird beetles, and lady beetles. But, despite their name, ladybugs are not just females.
Ladybugs live for about one year. They hatch from tiny yellow eggs usually near a colony of aphids. Ladybugs start life as alligator-shaped larvae. They immediately begin eating aphids and other insects. It takes a larva two weeks to become fully grown. In that time the larvae will eat about 400 aphids. Then the larva will attach itself to a leaf and pupate; in 7 to 14 days the larva’s cells transform its body into an adult ladybug with a round to elliptical, dome-shaped body, six short legs, and two wings.
Adult ladybugs spend the warm months of the year eating aphids and other insects; an adult ladybug will eat about 5,000 aphids in its life. During the cool and cold months of the year, ladybugs hibernate. When the air temperature drops to 55°F (13°C) on average, ladybugs gather in masses on tree trunks, logs, and even buildings to stay warm and hibernate. Ladybugs hibernate for up to 9 months each year.
When warm weather returns, ladybugs begin eating aphids again and female ladybugs will lay eggs to start the next generation. There is one new generation of ladybugs each year. To give the next generation a leg up, female ladybugs usually lay their eggs close to or even in a colony of aphids where larvae can begin feeding as soon as they hatch.
Ladybugs belong to the scientific family Coccinellidae. A common misconception is that you can tell the age of a ladybug by the spots on its back; that’s not true. Some ladybugs are spotted, some are striped, and some are a solid color. What is true, is that darker-colored ladybugs–say deep, deep red–are the oldest.