What we call "Ladybugs" are really ladybird beetles. Their real name is "Hippodamia convergens". The name Lady Bug originated in the Middle Ages, when the beetle was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and called Beetle of Our Lady. The French call them les betes du bon Dieu, or creatures of the good God and les vaches de la Vierge or, cows of the Virgin. The Germans call them Marienkafer or Mary's beetles.
They are an insect, and like all insects have six legs. We usually think of Ladybugs as red with black spots. But, there are many kinds of Ladybugs, and they come in many different colors. They have short legs and are usually brightly colored with black, yellow, or reddish markings. The nine-spotted ladybug has four black spots on each wing cover and one shared spot.
The life cycle takes about four weeks, so that several generations are produced each summer. The long, slender, soft-bodied larvae--usually gray with blue, green, red, or black spots--feed on other insects and insect eggs. The larvae pass through four growth stages and then attach to some object and create a pupae (larval skin). Different groups of ladybugs usually hibernate each winter in the same spot.
Ladybugs are very helpful to us because they eat aphids, scale and spider mites and mealy bugs that attack other plants. Some even eat plant mildew. Because of their usefulness ladybugs are often harvested and sold to farmers to control the harmful insects.
The Encyclopedia Britannica explains the origin of the children's rhyme:
Ladybug, Ladybug fly away home.
Your house is on fire,
Your children do roam.
This rhyme was a reference to the burning of the hop vines in England that took place following the harvest. The fire cleared the fields, but it also killed many of the ladybugs. The same thing happens here when we use pesticides. The pesticides kill the good bugs along with the bad bugs...NOT GOOD!
The Ladybug has two pairs of wings. It's hard, red outer wings protect the transparent wings the Ladybug flies with.
With its little claws and jaws, the Ladybug captures aphids...its favorite food. One Ladybug can eat as many as seventy-five aphids in one day. Yuk! As fall approaches Ladybugs may eat pollen which supplies fat for winter hibernation.
Ladybugs have an interesting way to protect themselves from predators. Their red or orange and black coloration warns birds that they would not make very good meal. They taste bad. They also "play dead" when they are in danger, just like possums. Many predators won't eat something that doesn't move. Ladybugs produce a bad-smelling odor, too. Ladybug eggs look like clusters of little orange footballs, each laid on edge. Their larvae look fearsome. They are alligator-shaped and are covered with spines and bumps. Extremely fast moving, they grow to 1/2 inch long over 2-3 weeks. The larvae have large, sickle-shaped jaws and can bite. One larvae will eat about 400 medium-size aphids during its development to the pupal stage. An adult ladybug may eat over 5000 aphids during its lifetime, which is about one year.
During the autumn, ladybugs crawl to sites where they will hibernate. These may be located at the base of trees, along a fence row, under fallen trees, or under rocks. They can almost always be found under leaves which protect them from cold winter temperatures. Sometimes they find their way into homes, hibernating in attics, or on the sunny side of a house. Most ladybugs don't wander very far.
Many people buy ladybugs to keep their gardens healthy! In Washington state you can purchase them at many garden centers for about $7.50 for 1500 bugs. They come in a package that has been refrigerated to keep them calm and dormant. During refrigeration they appear almost dead, and live off their body fat. They quickly become active when warmed up. They can be stored up to three months by refrigeration. Early evening is the best time to release them, and it gives them all night to settle in, find food and water, and decide they've found a good home. They probably will be thirsty from their journey, so releasing them in a moist location is best. If necessary, you can sprinkle some water around prior to their release, then, WATCH WHERE YOU STEP!