In the Ozarks and elsewhere, ladybugs have the well-deserved reputation of being a gardener’s best friend.
Most of us are familiar with these orange-and-black speckled beetles that can be found on vegetation throughout this area, but many people don’t realize the valuable role ladybugs play in pest control. You can learn more about ladybugs and other insects at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center’s Insect-O-Rama program from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17. No registration is required for Insect-O-Rama.
The name “ladybug” is a collective name used to identify a number of species in the Coccinellidae family of beetles. Most ladybugs, which are also known as lady beetles or ladybird beetles, have a similar appearance: They have rounded, flat-bottomed bodies and some type of orange and black pattern on their backs.
Some are orange with black spots, some have black strips or blotches, and a few species are black with orange spots. A common species in this area is the convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens), but you’ll find other species here, too.
In addition to their bright, eye-catching colors, another reason ladybugs have earned “favored insect” status with many people is because of their pest-control abilities. A magnified view of a ladybug will show large, jagged teeth-like mandibles. These mouth parts make ladybugs highly effective predators of aphids, mealy bugs, scale insects and other types of insects that can be pests.
Studies have shown that one adult ladybug can eat up to 60 aphids per day. In spring and summer, ladybugs produce many clusters of eggs. The larvae produced from these eggs also feed on aphids — one ladybug larva might consume up to 25 aphids per day. Simple arithmetic shows that anywhere ladybugs are, there are a lot of insect pests being eaten.
This pest-control benefit of the ladybug played a large part in the insect acquiring its name. In Medieval Europe, ladybug beetles were considered by some to be divinely sent from heaven to help farmers rid their crops of pests. This helpful insect and the agricultural assistance it provided became associated with the Virgin Mary, who was commonly referred to as Our Lady. Over the course of time, these helpful beetles with the bright spots came to be known as the “bugs of Our Lady.” Over the centuries, this title was gradually shortened to ladybug.
In summer, a ladybug’s life is consumed totally with consuming other insects. They construct no type of nest or home. They reside wherever populations of aphids and other prey insects are high. These places include crop fields, gardens and the canopies of trees. Within these environments, ladybugs find shelter as best they can.
In fall, cooler temperatures send ladybugs into warm over-wintering locations. Sometimes they gather in huge swarms. In recent years, the multicolored Asian lady beetle, a species of ladybug introduced into North America for pest-control purposes, has made headlines by showing up in homes in large swarms. These and other ladybug species can enter homes by slipping through cracks around doors and windows or through attic vents.
If you find ladybugs in your home in winter, don’t panic, even if you find large numbers of them. Ladybugs pose no threats to plants, pets or humans. Avoid squeezing or crushing them because the fluid this will emit can stain carpets and drapes.
The best thing to do is to simply sweep them into a sack, box or some other type of container and transport them to a sheltered spot some distance from your house. Remember, in the spring or summer, you’ll like having ladybugs around, particularly if you’re a gardener, so killing them is probably not what you want to do.
People who are interested in attending the Insect-O-Rama event Aug. 17 at the Nature Center can come any time during the event, which is open to all ages. For more information, call (417) 888-4237. The Springfield Conservation Nature Center is at 4601 S. Nature Center Way in Springfield.
Individuals also can learn more about insects of this area at missouriconservation.org.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation's Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call (417) 895-6880.