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Partly due to their bright colors and bold patterns, ladybugs are very popular insects. Farmers and gardeners are also fond of ladybugs because they prey on insects that are harmful to crops and plants. Unfortunately, the introduction of certain species for biological control in areas where they are not indigenous has led to some ladybugs becoming pests themselves. Read this article to find out more about ladybugs and to learn whether the ladybugs in your garden are beneficial or not.
Coccinellidae, popularly known as ladybugs, is a large family of small beetles. The name “ladybug” is actually a bit misleading, as these insects aren’t classified as true bugs. Whereas true bugs have sucking mouthparts, the mouthparts of beetles are modified for chewing. People started calling these insects “our Lady’s bird” in medieval Britain, as they associated their red color with the red cloak the Virgin Mary wore in early paintings. The name was later adapted to “ladybird” in Britain and “ladybug” in the U.S.
Over 6,000 species of ladybugs are spread all over the world, especially in the major crop-producing regions of temperate and tropical countries. In the U.S. alone, there are around 480 ladybug species. They are distributed throughout the country, from San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Ladybugs are small insects that range in size from around 0.03 inch to 0.71 inch. As is the case with many other insects, female ladybugs are larger than males. The ladybug’s body is dome-shaped and comes in a variety of bright colors, including yellow, orange, red, and blue. Depending on their species, their bodies may contain spots, stripes, or no markings.
The conspicuous colors and bold markings of most ladybug species serve as a warning signal to predators that the ladybug tastes bad and is poisonous. There are, however, ladybug species that have paler or less-noticeable colors, such as black, gray, or brown. Other characteristics of the ladybug’s anatomy include six short legs, short antennae, and a tiny head with two eyes that can only distinguish between light and dark. In addition, they have two sets of wings: hard or leather-like outer wings and the more delicate flight wings underneath.
Ladybugs live in a variety of habitats, which include grasslands, forests, cities, suburbs, meadows, wetlands, parks, gardens, and even inside houses. Their diets also vary greatly, depending on the species, and can include mites, mildews, whiteflies, mealybugs, scale insects, and aphids. However, ladybirds are not actually carnivores but omnivores. They may also feed on pollen, mildew, mushrooms, and honeydew, which is the sugary excretion left behind by insects like aphids. They are especially prone to do so in times when food sources are scarce.
Some of their main predators include birds, wasps, frogs, spiders, and dragonflies. Apart from the fact that their bright colors serve to ward off enemies, ladybugs also release a bad-smelling and noxious fluid from their leg joints. This means that the warning their brightly colored bodies send out to predators is in actuality true: They taste awful and have a toxic effect. Although predators won’t die from eating a ladybug, they will get sick for a while, and will not try to eat that species of ladybug again.
Ladybugs are certainly not harmful to humans. Although these insects may bite on rare occasions, the worst effects include a sharp stinging sensation followed by a small red bump. Ladybugs also don’t transfer parasites or diseases to humans. In general, they are regarded as beneficial agents in gardens, as they act as natural pest controllers by preying on plant pests, such as aphids.
A biological pest controller like the ladybug is far more effective at controlling the pests in gardens and crops than pesticides are. This is because insects like aphids are resistant to certain pesticides. Also, you may not always reach all colonies, which will result in a rapid repopulation of pests. Lastly, many pesticides can be harmful to plants and the environment.
It’s for this reason that farmers and gardeners have, over the years, introduced alien ladybug species to certain areas to biologically control various pests. However, this has caused unforeseen negative effects. Alien species often out-compete native species and become invasive. What’s more, such ladybug species can themselves also become detrimental to plants and food crops.
For instance, the multicolored Asian lady beetle was introduced to the U.S. in the 1920s to control aphids on food crops. These ladybugs were very successful in eliminating these bugs; however, they also became pests themselves by eating the fruit of crops before winter and making them vulnerable to contamination.
The Asian lady beetle has become a problem in many U.S. homes too. As autumn arrives, these insects start searching for protected places to spend the winter, which are often homes and buildings. They tend to settle and congregate in places like wall cavities, cracks around door or window frames, and in attics. Apart from the fact that these ladybugs can emit a foul smell and stain surfaces with their self-defensive excretions, studies also suggest that an infestation can cause allergies and asthma in humans.
To prevent an infestation, you can caulk your home before their hibernating season starts. Take care to seal all entry points, such as cracks around doors and windows. If you have gaps underneath sliding doors, those can be sealed with foam weather stripping. Once they’re inside, you can either vacuum them up and dispose of them or use a vinegar spray, which is deadly to ladybugs.
However, if you’re battling to get rid of an infestation, or are not sure how to deal with the problem, it may be best to call a professional pest control service like Bulwark for assistance. We will be able to correctly assess what kind of ladybug you’re dealing with and will provide you with an effective and long-lasting solution.