Beneficial Insects
Composting
Fertilize & Mulch
Garden Plans
Garden Pests
Lawn Management
Quick Tips
Specialty Gardens

Beneficial Insect — Ladybugs (Lady Beetles)

Lady Bug

Common Name: Ladybugs

Genus: Coccinellidae

Description:

Ladybugs share a characteristic shape – a dome-shaped back and a flat underside. Ladybug elytra display bold colors and markings, usually red, orange, or yellow with black spots. Ladybugs walk on short legs, which tuck away under the body. Their short antennae form a slight club at the end. The ladybug's head is almost hidden beneath a large pronotum, a prominent plate-like structure that covers the top of the thorax. Ladybug mouthparts are modified for chewing.

Male ladybugs have more hair-like structures called setae on the last segment of their abdomen. The have large prominent bands on the underside between the segments with a notch on the posterior segment

Female ladybugs are usually slightly larger than males. Female ladybugs do not have lots of setae, just a few on the last segment on the underside of their abdomen. They do not have large prominent bands between the segments or a notch on the rounded posterior segment.

Test your knowledge: Take the Ladybug Quiz.

Diet:

Most ladybugs are predators with ravenous appetites for aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Adult ladybugs will eat several hundred aphids before mating and laying eggs on the infested plants. Ladybug larvae feed on aphids as well.

Life Cycle:

Eggs

Ladybug Eggs Ladybugs lay eggs in clusters, mainly on the underside of leaves, and usually on or near plants with a sufficient population of aphids, scales or mealybugs.

Ladybug eggs look similar to small jelly beans and are arranged in clusters. See image opposite of an adult female ladybug laying a cluster of eggs.

Larvae

Ladybug Larvae After 3 – 12 days, larvae of ladybugs hatch from the eggs. Larvae are elongated and look similar to a tiny alligator. Their bodies are covered with bristles. Some larvae have black spots or bands of bright color which will eventually form to create their adult spots. Image below is a typical example of a ladybug larva.

These tiny larvae have an insatiable appetite, during this stage single larvae devour hundreds of aphids. They not only dine on aphids, but they also eat other soft-bodied insects including scale insects, mites, adelgids, and insect eggs. They cannot fly at this stage so will seek out food locally. They may also eat eggs of other species too.

After hatching out, the larva is in its first instar (a phase between two periods of molting). It eats and eats until it grows in size, breaks out of its shell (cuticle) and molts. Usually, a larva molts four times in total before it becomes a pupa. Now, this larva will attach itself to leaf when it is ready to pupate.

Pupae

Ladybug Pupae After the larval stage, comes the pupa stage. Pupae are usually yellow or orange with dark markings. In this stage pupa is still, attached to a leaf, it’s body experiences striking change. Pupal stage may last for 3 to 12 days, depending upon the species, temperature, and environment also play a factor. The image shows a ladybug in mid pupa progress.

Adult

As soon as the metamorphosis is complete, a beautiful soft bodied adult ladybug emerges. This recently emerged ladybug does not look like the one we see in our gardens. It appears pale, golden or even pinkish when only a couple of hours old.

Mating and Reproduction

Ladybug Mating Ladybugs reproduce sexually. The exact ladybug courting ritual is not precisely known. They all emit pheromones to help attract a suitable mate and begin the process of mating. As soon as male finds a suitable mating partner he mounts on top of her from behind and grips tightly with his front four legs.

This process of copulating can last for up to two hours. Female ladybugs can have more than one partner while mating. She can store sperm for up to 3 months before she’s ready to lay eggs.

A female ladybug lays her eggs where there’s an abundant supply of food, often near to colonies of aphids. If food availability is insufficient, she’ll lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs alongside each other, so that larvae, when hatched, can feed on unfertilized eggs to satisfy their body’s immediate nutritional requirement.

Gestation Period

Their gestation period lasts for 4 – 7 weeks. The number of offspring depends upon the type of species but eggs are laid usually in clusters of 10-15 eggs, usually 1 – 2 weeks.

How To Release Ladybugs In The Garden

Purchasing Ladybugs

Graphic of ladybug anatomy

When purchasing lady beetles, inspect the container and make sure almost all beetles are alive. Lady beetles purchased from primary suppliers (those who obtain beetles directly from collectors) may be healthier than those held in stores for several weeks.

Proper Handling

Lady beetles need to be kept refrigerated until they are released. Live lady beetles on display in stores are attractive for customers, but beetles left out at room temperature rapidly deteriorate. Also, lady beetles are often dehydrated and need water, especially if they have been held at room temperature, even for a few hours. Stores or gardeners are advised to mist lady beetles with water in a squirt bottle before placing them in the refrigerator for storage, making sure not to let water puddle in containers.

Release Rates

High numbers of lady beetles are required to control aphids. One large, heavily infested rose bush in the landscape required two applications of about 1,500 lady beetles each, spaced a week apart. Most packages sold in stores contain only enough lady beetles to treat one aphid-infested shrub or a few small plants.

Ladybugs Need Aphids

There is no point in releasing them on plants with few aphids. Lady beetles are voracious aphid feeders and an adult beetle will eat 50 or more aphids a day. The convergent lady beetle, which is the species sold for release, feeds almost entirely on aphids and will not remain on plants with low aphid populations and will not control other garden pests.

How To Release Ladybugs

Lady beetles will fly away almost immediately if released during the heat of the day or where the sun is shining, so wait until evening to release them. Spray a fine mist of water on the plants before the release. Giving beetles a drink may keep them around longer. Place beetles at the base of plants or in the crotches of low branches. Lady beetles will crawl higher into the plant in search of aphids. Once lady beetles begin to fly, they are likely to fly a substantial distance, often outside the boundaries of your garden.

Short But Sweet Visit

Even when released with care, lady beetles will fly away within a few days. About 95% of released beetles fly away within 48 hours. The remainder were gone within 4 or 5 days. Lady beetles are unlikely to lay eggs on the plants they are released on. If aphids return a week or two later, gardeners will need to release more lady beetles, hose aphids off with water, use insecticidal soap sprays, or wait for other native aphid natural enemies to fly in.

Is There A Downside To Purchasing Laybugs?

Commercial Harvesting of Ladybugs

Almost all ladybugs sold in the US are wild harvested typically in California's Eastern Sierras. Ladybug harvesters collect them in the fall during hibernation and sell them during the spring gardening season. It's a lucrative business but its technically illegal and the reason is complicated.

Parasites and Disease

Wild caught ladybugs that you purchased could possibly carry parasites or diseases and releasing them into your garden could result in you introducing them into your area.