You probably wouldn't be able to draw a Cyphochilus beetle or a mole cricket if someone asked you to, but you almost certainly could depict a ladybug. Little round, red body with black spots, two antennae and some little black legs and, bingo, a ladybug!
Good start, but not quite. Ladybugs, also known as lady beetles and ladybirds, also come in a Crayola-worthy assortment of pink, black, yellow and orange. Most of them have distinct markings, but they're not always black -- a black ladybug might have red markings, for example. Some ladybugs have 13 spots, while others have only two. And that's not even mentioning ladybug larva, which look kind of like lizards.
Whether you fall into the camp of people who think ladybugs are adorable or the side that thinks they're just another bug, you probably haven't given a lot of thought to ladybug babies, toddlers or teenagers. Isn't it about time to learn about the beetle in your backyard?
Ladybugs start as out as little eggs -- orange or yellow oval-shaped eggs, to be exact (it's a colorful life for a ladybug).
Egg laying takes place in the spring or summer, when female ladybugs disperse in search of prey. The ideal place for these ladybugs-to-be is on a protected spot (a plant stem, for example, or the underside of a rain gutter) near a colony of delicious aphids or mealbugs.
A ladybug produces anywhere from 20 to 1,000 eggs during the egg-laying season, usually about 10 to 50 eggs in each cluster [source: Weeden, Shelton and Hoffman; Thomas]. How long it takes an egg to hatch depends on a variety of conditions, but it usually doesn't take more than a week and sometimes only a few days. Little alligator-looking things -- ladybug larvae -- hatch from the eggs. And the first thing they do is eat their own eggshells.
Ladybug larvae look absolutely nothing like the sweet, spotted adults they'll become. They look kind of like tiny black alligators with spines and spots, which in a beetle isn't generally a comparison that inspires "Aww, how cute" comments. In fact, it's not uncommon for an inexperienced gardener to see one and think some vicious invader is on a quest for plants to destroy.
Ladybugs usually stay larvae for three or four weeks, enough time to do some serious chowing down. But that's not the only cuisine concern in the mind of a larva -- cannibalism is a very real threat for growing ladybug babies. Luckily, larvae can move around. In order to avoid being gobbled up, many of them move away from the prey other ladybugs feed on.
During the larval stage, the ladybugs molt four times. The stages of development between these moltings are known as instars.
And then they enter the next stage: that of the pupa.
Prepupa kicks off the pupal stage for a ladybug. When the larvae are ready to move to the next stage of their ladybug lives, they attach themselves belly-first to a surface such as a plant leaf. Motion stops, and so does feeding. This is no time for wiggling.
The larva curls up a bit, and some of the larval skin may still be hanging around. The future beetle scrunches up to be more compact and begins to look less like a lizard and more like a ladybug. The pupa will change in color, possibly turner darker or more orange.
The pupal stage is a time of transition for a ladybug. To the casual observer, it just looks like a whole lot of waiting. The process lasts a week or so, ending when the silent, compact little mass makes its way out of its pupal skin.
A new ladybug adult is soft-winged and lighter in color than it will be in the future. After putting the pupal skin aside, it takes a couple of days for those vibrant wing covers to take their final (harder) form. Once the exoskeleton is hard, the ladybug can fly, displaying its new (usually red and black) wings for the world.
Another physical change you've probably noticed in an adult ladybug is that sometimes it leaves a yellow liquid on your hand. Did it pee on you? No -- that's hemolymph, blood that the ladybug secretes from its leg joints to tell you (and other would-be ladybug predators) to back off.
Aphids, mealybugs, insect eggs, pollen: It's time for this adult lady beetle to eat. Only after a period of feeding does mating begin -- and then the cycle starts all over again, with some little eggs.
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More Great Links
- Bessin, Ric. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Last revised January 2007. (Accessed May 15, 2009)http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef105.asp
- Cranshaw, W.S. "Lady Beetles." Colorado State University Extension. November 2006. (Accessed May 19, 2009)http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/INSECT/05594.html
- Cunningham, Alexander et al. "Lady Beetles of Nebraska." University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension. (Accessed May 19, 2009)http://www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/live/ec1780/build/ec1780.pdf
- Frank, J. Howard and Russell F. Mizell. "Featured creatures: ladybug." University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. November 2000. Last revised November 2006. (Accessed May 15, 2009)http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/beneficial/lady_beetles.htm
- Thomas, Lesley. "Coccinella septempunctata." University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Web. 2001. (Accessed May 18, 2009)http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Coccinella_septempunctata.html
- Weeden, Catherine, Anthony M. Shelton and Michael P. Hoffmann. "Lady Beetles." "Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America." Cornell University. (Accessed May 18, 2009)http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/biocontrol/predators/ladybintro.html