The cute, quiet, and hardworking ladybug is a crop saver, a pop culture icon, and an instructional aid in classrooms around the world but some are destructive. You should be able to identify the ones that can destroy plants, bite you and stain your homes.
Ladybugs have a 4-stage life cycle consisting of 1) egg 2) larva 3) pupa and 4) adult. The egg stage lasts only up to 7 days, while the larva stage lasts up to a month. The pupa stage is around a week long while the adult stage lasts up to three years depending on the species and the environment.
A few destroy plants while others save them. They are known as ladybugs in the USA and ladybirds in the UK. However, they’re neither birds nor bugs. Actually, scientists call them lady beetles.
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As far as naming goes, scientists got it right: ladybugs are beetles of the order coleoptera (Latin for sheath-winged) in the family coccinellidae (Latin for small, red, round thing). That’s why the general term for ladybugs is coccinellids.
FUN LINK: Compare the size of a ladybug to a paper clip of national geographic.
There are at least 5,000 ladybug species in the world, but most Americans are familiar with those with oval, dome-shaped, shiny red backs with seven black spots that are said to bring good luck (no scientific evidence for this, though).
Some ladybugs are flatter and longer in shape, some have patterns or no spots at all. Ladybug species differ in number of spots and in color, ranging from shades or reds, yellows, browns, or shiny blues or greens.
The life-cycle of ladybugs has four stages: egg, larva and pupa, and adult. The entire life cycle from egg to adult stages can take about four to five weeks, depending on food supply and weather.
The egg stage lasts from 2 to 7 days. Most female ladybugs lay eggs in clusters of 20 to 30. They then leave the eggs to develop independently from larva to adults, and move on to produce up to six generations every year.
- Ladybug eggs are generally laid upright like spindlees
- Ladybug eggs are laid near aphid colonies that serve as food when the eggs hatch
- Some eggs are fertile, but some are sterile to be used as food for the larvae
- Eggs hatch in only 2 to 7 days, depending on the species
- The larva hatches from the egg by biting a hole
- The first eggs to hatch can eat unhatched eggs but can also consume at least 50 aphids per day
FACTOID: The green ladybug is not a ladybug. It’s the spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata).
The larval stage lasts for about 3 to 4 weeks or 18 to 25 days, depending on the weather. Larvae change their skins (molt) four times, becoming bigger each time.
- The ladybug larva is long like a caterpillar, generally gray with red, green, black, or blue spots. However, they are usually black with some colored spots
- Ladybug larvae grow from 1 mm (1/25″) to about 1 cm (3/8″) long. They have 6 legs but no wings
- Ladybug larvae are cannibalistic. They can also consume up to 400 aphids
- Larvae molt 4 times. Each molting is called an instar
- After the fourth instar develops a hard casing, the larva begins to turn into a pupa. Some species fast for about a month before they pupate.
The pupa stage is between 8 and 9 days long
- First, the larva attaches itself to a twig or leaf, mostly on the underside of leaves
- When a predator touches a pupa, some species can use pincers for protection
- The pupa develops with its head up, the tissues develop, and after about a week, the skin splits down its back
- Then, a young adult beetle with its head down appears and can consume up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.
In the right conditions, adult ladybugs can live from 3 months to three years. They can produce several generations every year.
- Adults can mate before and after winter. When food is not enough, females can wait up to 9 months after mating before they start to lay eggs.
- An adult female can eat about 300 aphids before laying eggs near aphid sites in the spring. In just a few weeks, they can lay up to 1,500 eggs.
- On average, adult ladybugs can eat at least 20 aphids each day.
- Ladybugs that eat aphids only are generally larger, grow, move and age faster, and lay eggs in clusters.
- Those that feed on other insects are generally smaller, live longer, grow and move slower, and lay single eggs.
- An adult ladybug can consume more than 5,000 aphids before it dies of old age.
13 Good Ladybugs: Which One Do You Have?
Here’s a quick review of the ladybug species that eat destructive pest insects.
|Common name||Scientific name||Colors||Features|
|1||Spotless ladybug, polished lady beetle or immaculate ladybird beetle||Cycloneda munda ; may be confused with Coccinella californica||Tan, red, orange backs; white M shape on the head; yellow stripe on the back||No spots; white faces on males; dark centers on females|
|2||2-spot ladybird, 2-spotted lady beetle, or 2-spotted ladybug||Adalia bipunctata ; may be confused with Scymnus frontalis||2 black spots, red back ; some have black backs with red spots (video)||A. quadripustulata have 4 spots; A. sexpustulatata have 6 spots|
|3||3-banded ladybug||Coccinella trifasciata subversa; may be confused with Chilocorus stigma||red-orange back with 3 bands||bands may appear as three spots|
|4||5-spot ladybug, 5-spot ladybird, or transverse ladybird||Coccinella transversoguttata may be confused with Exochomus quadripustulatus , Coccinella transversalis , Coccinella quinquepunctata , or the Myzia oblongoguttata||5 black spots on orange backs; one spot is long, across both wings||black head with white markings on the sides; each wing has two narrow black spots|
|5||7-spot ladybug||Coccinella septempunctata; may be confused with Coccinella magnifica||7 black spots on orange or red backs; some have 0 to 9 spots||3 spots on each wing; 1 spot on both wings where the wings meet|
|6||9-spot ladybug||Coccinella novemnotata; may be confused with Adalia decempunctata ; Aphidecta obliterata ; or the Hippodamia variegata||9 black spots on orange or red backs||Some have no spots at all. There’s a pale band between the eyes|
|7||12-spot ladybug, pink ladybug, pink ladybird beetle, spotted lady beetle, or c-mac lady beetle||Coleomegilla maculata; may be confused with Coccinella undecimpunctata , or the Halyzia sedecimguttata||12 black spots on a rosy pink, orange, red, or reddish body||back of the head has a triangle ; the front spot may sometimes form a Y-shape|
|8||14-spot ladybug, eye-spot ladybugs or eye-spotted lady beetles||Anatis mali; may be confused with Anatis labiculata ; Myzia oblongoguttata ; Tytthaspis sedecimpunctata ; or the Hippodamia tredecimpunctata||14 black spots with yellow rings on a crimson body||2 smaller spots are next to each other at the front|
|9||19-spot ladybug, water ladybirds, water lady beetles||Anisosticta 19-decempunctata; may be confused with Psyllobora 7-maculata , P. 20-punctata , S. 24-punctata , A. ocellata , H. argus or the C. impunctata||19 black spots on beige or cream ; some black & yellow spots on white ; some with black spots on yellow||some show 15 to 21 spots ; turns orange or reddish in April and June|
|10||Cardinal ladybird vedalia beetle, vedalia lady beetle, or Australian ladybird||Rodilia cardinalsi; may be confused with Clitosthetus arcuatus or the Cryptolaemus montrouzieri||5 black spots on a red body ; legs and antennae are orange or reddish||males are black and hairy ; spots may merge to form an irregular black shape|
|11||Convergent ladybug||Hippodamia convergens||zero to 13 spots, white lines that converge on reddish backs||for sale as farm and garden biocontrol agents|
|12||Orange-spotted ladybug or ursine spurleg lady beetle||Brachiacantha ursina||9 orange or yellow-orange spots on black||others show yellow spots|
|13||Steel-blue ladybird, steel-blue ladybug, or blue ladybird||Halmus chalybeus||Dark metallic blue or green wings, brown feet and antennae||Males have yellowish brown patches on the body and legs (video)|
The Top Three Bad Ladybugs
For those who want to know the ladybugs that can destroy plants, here are the top three.
|Common name||Scientific name||Colors||Features|
|1||Asian lady beetle, MALB (multicolored asian lady beetles), Japanese ladybird, pumpkin ladybird, halloween ladybug, or harlequin ladybird||Harmonia axyridis||almost identical to other common ladybugs, but 4 spots form a white M-shape just behind the head (photos).||The succinea type is shiny red or orange with zero to many black spots . The spectabilis type is black with 4 orange spots . The conspicua type has 2 spots .|
|2||Mexican bean beetle||Epilachna varivestis; may be confused with Appalachia varlvestls||8 to 16 black spots on red, brown, orange or copper backs|
|3||Squash beetle or southern squash beetle||Epilachna borealis may be confused with E. varivestis||seven large black spots on yellow backs,||four black spots on the head area|
Other harmful beetles also include asparagus beetles (Crioceris asparagi), blister beetles (Meloe epicauta), potato beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata), sunflower beetles (Zygogramma exclamationis) and striped flea beetles (Phyllotreta striolata).
Lady beetles have round spots, right? Not quite true. In fact, here are four that wear the most unique spots:
- Rectangles: There’s a 14-spotted ladybug (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata) with rectangular spots in white, black, or yellow on a black (photo) or yellow back (photo).
- Exclamation marks: The sunflower beetle (Z. exclamationis) attacks the leaves of sunflowers and is therefore considered a pest in gardens all over the USA (photo).
- Hieroglyphics: The hieroglyphic ladybird (C. hieroglyphica or Coccinella hieroglyphica mannerheimi in the USA) are light brown (photo), chestnut-brown, or light yellow (photo), although some are black (photo). They feed on heather aphids (Aphis callunae) the laves on heather (Calluna vulgaris) plants, willow, birch, and alder trees.
- Parentheses: The parenthesis lady beetle (Hippodamia parenthesis) have a pair of spots that are shaped like parentheses (photo).
- Anchors: The anchor bug (Stiretrus anchorago) looks similar to the harlequin bug except that its spots look like black anchors on a red, yellow, or orange back (photo).
Now you know the many good and the few bad ladybugs. However, do you know why people like them? Here are the top five reasons why they remain popular.
- They’ve got a great backstory: The ladybug – which can be a male or a female – got its name according to an ancient European legend that tells how this tiny insect saved the crops of Christian farmers.
- They’re cute and eat lots of insects: Ladybugs look cute, harmless to humans, and a big help to farmers and gardeners. One ladybug can eat up to 5,000 soft-bodied, plant-eating insects during its entire lifetime.
- They’re in popular culture: Ladybugs are in a nursery rhyme, in music, cartoons, lesson plans, the movies, in the news, and even in cosplay costumes.
- They’re educational: Many schools that have ant farms and worm farms also keep ladybug farms to show children how they multiply, develop, and live. Their life-cycles are short (meaning, they develop rapidly) enough for students to identify their life cycle from eggs to adulthood.
- They’re commercial: Four types of ladybugs from Florida are sold by commercial growers: Delphastus catalinae that destroys whiteflies, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri and Rhyzobius lophanthae that destroy mealybugs, and the mentioned convergent ladybugs (Hippodamia convergens).
- They reduce the need for insecticides: Because they’ve got huge appetites and multiply rapidly, they’re used to control serious infestations of aphids, mealy bugs, scales, corn borers, and spider mites that destroy plants.
And that’s what you need to know most about the lovely ladybug. Before you go, here are five quick takeaways to remember.
- What are ladybugs? Although ladybugs are also called ladybirds, they’re actually beetles. There are more than 5,000 types around the world. More than 20 common garden-helpers are mentioned here, along with 4 ladybugs that destroy plants.
- What’s their life-cycle? Ladybugs have a four-stage life-cycle that lasts from 4 to 8 weeks (including egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages). Depending on weather and food supplies, ladybugs can live from 1 to three years.
- Why are they popular? They look like tiny, shiny, cute buttons. They don’t disturb people, and they eat a lot of garden pests. They’re welcomed as alternatives to insecticides. They’re educational and have a positive history with farmers.
- What are good ladybugs? The good ones eat aphids and other insect pests that destroy plants. This article describes 18 most common species.
- What are bad ladybugs? The bad ones eat plants, swarm and infest homes and buildings when they seek warmth in winter, while others bite or leave stinky stains on surfaces.
- What are unique ladybug spots? While the most popular ladybugs are red with round black spots, some black, white, or other colors. Instead of round spots, a few unique ladybugs show squares or rectangles, hieroglyphics, quote marks, or exclamation marks.
Do you have some favorite ladybug stories? Let me know!
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