Ladybugs in the garden do double duty: while looking pretty, they munch on aphids and other pests by the hundreds while they put everyone (except the pests) in a wonderful mood.
Even though the mighty Ladybug (also called Lady Bird Beetle and Lady Beetle) seems to relish aphids the most, the adorable little insect also eats other garden pests like mites and mealybugs. The photograph to the right shows lady beetles devouring black aphids attacking a pinyon tree.
There are between 4000 and 5000 different types of Ladybugs covering the globe with as many as 450 different types living in North America. Several of these wonderful insects call the Sierra and the Nevada basin and range their home. In fact, according to John Muir Laws' The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, the California Lady-beetle, the Ashy Gray, the Striped, the Sinuate, the Nine-spotted, the Two Stabbed and the Red and Black Darkling Ladybugs are all localized residents.
Since these varieties are local, it is possible to entice them into your garden. The only solid requirement is that you offer a poison free environment. Ladybugs are known to migrate from place to place in search for food. If your living garden has aphids and other small pests, which it probably will, Ladybugs will most likely find their way to them. You can also safely introduce them in a more concentrated and controlled way by purchasing live Ladybugs from our garden shop.
Mythologies surrounding Lady Beetles might not be as varied and interesting as are those concerning other insects, such as the Praying Mantis, but some believe that if you see a Ladybug, especially if it lands on you, you're in for some good luck. Some European traditions claim that you even get a wish-come-true if one lands on you.
Other Ladybug myths speak of love and desire. Some old traditions hold that if a Ladybug comes close, you can introduce yourself, then whisper your amorous message. The sweet insect will then fly off (beating its tiny twin set of wings close to a hundred times per second!) in search of the one you love. Once found, the little bug will relay your secret divulgence.
Whether any of this is true, who cares? Certainly, though, good luck it is if you find Ladybugs eating aphids and other tiny pests in your garden.
This thriving colony of aphids was observed feeding upon a patch of Purple Kale in a backyard garden in Reno's 'Banana Belt' section of the old southwest. Ladybugs will delightfully feed upon colonies such as this while the females lay their eggs, attempting to establish a more or less stable situation for future generations in an area where there is abundant food. Ladybugs find food by smell, mostly. They smell food, water and pheromones with their legs and antennae. Once a food source like this has been located, the adult female Ladybug will lay hundreds of eggs close by.
The incubation period is short, usually no longer than a week, but if the temperature is just right, eggs can begin hatching in less than 36 hours. As the eggs hatch, the feast upon the aphid colony will intensify. The adult Ladybugs will continue eating, each one consuming as many plump aphids as they can. The young hatchlings will emerge with voracious appetites as well. Very soon an aphid eating frenzy will be underway.
The color of the Ladybug's hard shell -- the elytra -- as well as the arrangement and number of spots help entomologists indicate its species. Ladybugs do not grow spots with age, although it is said that the color of the elytra sometimes fades with age.
Ladybugs can endure quite low temperatures, although the colder it gets, the less active they become. In our area, during the deep winter months, Ladybugs gather together in large clusters for warmth and protection.
Besides being mean little aphid eating machines, Ladybugs provide food for other insects. They are also a food source for birds and toads, although the bright orange color (some are yellow) tends to be a natural indication to many predators to stay away. Also, when attacked, Ladybugs will ooze a bad smelling liquid from their tiny joints which apparently, doesn't taste very good, so unless someone is really really hungry, Ladybugs are usually left alone. Ladybugs will also pull in their legs and their antennae to 'play dead' when threatened. This trick eliminates all but those who like to eat dead things, like Crows.
If you plan to release live Ladybugs into your garden, the best time to do this is when food is already present. For example, if you notice that your rose bushes are beginning to show signs of aphid infestation, the presence of aphids will offer instant food for your new Ladybug guests. It would be good to release your Ladybugs in close proximity to the developing aphid colony.
Once released, if you notice that your Ladybugs don't seem very interested in the aphid colony, don't worry. It might take a day or two for the Ladybugs to get used to their new environment. Once they've settled in, the aphid feast should commence.
Children love releasing the Ladybugs into the garden. Pick a beautiful, warm day in late spring for their release. Find places in your yard, vegetable and rose gardens where aphids are present or likely to congregate. Each container we sell holds enough to distribute liberally throughout your yard. If warm weather has not arrived, you can keep your ladybugs in the refrigerator.
Next time you're in our shop, ask about our Ladybugs for sale. If it's not the right season when you think about this, plan to release Ladybugs and Praying Mantises middle to late spring.
We stock Praying Mantis egg cases (called "ootheca") for a short time mid to late spring, just when the air begins to warm up during the day and the humidity is just right. That is, a week or so before the pods are ready to hatch.
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