Ladybugs, Lady Beetles or Ladybird Beetles. How Good are They?

Polished lady beetle

Polished lady beetle. © Beatriz Moisset. 2012

What is in a name? Most call it a ladybug; others, ladybird or ladybird beetle or just lady beetle. Is one name more appropriate than others? Is there just one kind, or many kinds of this insect?

Scientists prefer the term Coccinellidae to include all the members of this large family of beetles. The technical name has the advantage of leaving no room for confusion.

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata)

Seven-spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata). © Beatriz Moisset. 2013

Ladybug is not entirely correct because bugs are insects with sucking mouth parts and simple development. Ladybugs are, in fact, beetles, with chewing mouth parts and with a full metamorphosis, with larva, pupa and adult, similar to that of butterflies. So the preferred common name is lady beetle.

Coleomegilla maculata

Spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculata). © Beatriz Moisset. 2013

 

Now that we settled this, we can move on. If you are thinking of just one generic lady beetle, think again. The 500 species of lady beetles in North America vary in size from a pinhead to almost half an inch. They are not all red with black dots; some are entirely black or mostly red or have a pattern of black and ochre or black and yellow.

The fungus-eater, twenty-spotted lady beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata), adult and larva

Twenty-spotted lady beetle (Psyllobora vigintimaculata), adult and larva. © Beatriz Moisset. 2012

Most feed on aphids and other small, juicy insects, and we love them for that. But a few of them feed on plants, to gardeners disappointment. A handful of species feed on mildew. The babies, or larvae, are as ugly as the adult is pretty (well, I find them beautiful anyway). They look like little alligators. If all this shocks you a little, you may want to spend a couple of minutes digesting it.

Spotted lady beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata)

Spotted lady beetle larva (Coleomegilla maculata). © Beatriz Moisset. 2013

Most of those 500 species of lady beetles are native to North America; but a few dozens came from other continents. Some arrived accidentally, but others were brought to combat pests. The first one of these intentionally-introduced pest enemies was the Vedalia beetle, Rodolia cardinalis, brought from Australia in the 1880s to fight a non-native pest, the cottony cushion scale. This scale insect was devastating the orange groves of California.

The non-native fourteen-spotted lady beetle (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata)

The non-native fourteen-spotted lady beetle (Propylea quatuordecimpunctata). © Beatriz Moisset. 2011

The introduced lady beetle was such a resounding success that it inspired horticulturists to start using other insects as pest controls, also called biocontrols. Some of the newcomers are doing a satisfactory job, especially the ones that help control non-native green-house pests. It is too bad that sometimes we learn the hard way about unintended consequences. Not all introduced species continue to be well behaved guests. Some develop into unwanted pests themselves.

The non-native Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis)

The non-native Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis). © Beatriz Moisset. 2013

 

You will not like what I am about to tell you because I am sure you have seen this lady beetle and delighted in it, thinking that it is a good friend of your garden. The Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, has been in North America for almost a century. It was brought from Asia because of its voracious appetite for aphids. We cant deny that it goes through them with gusto.

Asian lady beetle invasion in winter

Asian lady beetle invasion in winter. © Beatriz Moisset. 2009

 

Unfortunately, its population has grown explosively since its arrival and, once established, it revealed some undesirable habits. It is larger than most native lady beetles, so it has no trouble including them into its diet, and it may be endangering some of them. The Asian lady beetle has become a nuisance in another way. When winter comes, it looks for a place to sleep, often gathering in large crowds in garages and attics. No wonder Europeans are trying hard to stop this invasion. It is too late for us, though.

The concept of using lady beetles has spread to ordinary gardeners, who see advertisements and decide to purchase some. This is not as desirable as it seems at first sight. You can find some good advice at the North Carolina State University website, University of Wisconsin website and About.com. Purchasing lady beetles may be unnecessary if you maintain a healthy garden (no pesticides) which invites the local lady beetle fauna. Moreover, a healthy garden welcomes other allies in the war against aphids, such as lacewings, syrphid flies and parasitic wasps.

If you still insist on buying lady beetles, beware! Most sites that sell them provide insufficient or false information. Some dont mention which species they are selling, as if all lady beetles were the same. They are not! They fail to inform you where they were collected, or whether they were bred. A few provide the wrong instructions for releasing them.

Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens)

Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens). © Beatriz Moisset. 2013

Stay away from the non-native Asian lady beetle. Find the origin of the insects you buy. Just as with native plants, you want to choose the locally native ones. Convergent lady beetles are usually harvested from their wintering sites in California.  The lady beetle market may represent a threat to their populations. Moreover, these lady beetles are not inclined to stay in your garden. Their instinct tells them to fly away from the crowd that was sharing their wintering places. Few or none will remain in your garden. Also, these transported lady beetles may carry pests and introduce them to new places.

We may go on loving lady beetles and being grateful for their services. Let us love the native ones and make the effort to create the right habitat for them, including some sustenance, as Christy Peterson reminds us with a touch of humor.

Larva of a giant lady beetle, Anatis sp. I see beauty in this ugly little thing. © Beatriz Moisset. 2013

Eggs of unidentified lady beetle and a colony of aphids

Eggs of unidentified lady beetle amidst a colony of aphids, also a beautiful sight. © Beatriz Moisset. 2013

© 2013 2014, Beatriz Moisset. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. DeAnna says

    I always wondered how people intended to keep them in their gardens. It never occurs to them that theyre going to fly away as soon as you release them. Its a waste of money & a bad idea in general, as most people have no idea what theyre doing, & like you mentioned, they think theyre all the same.
    I let Mother Nature keep the balance. When Man interferes, it always seems to backfire.

    Reply
  2. Donna@Gardens Eye View says

    I love learning more than I thought I could know about critters and this is one of those posts. Who knew? So many different types and the Asian beetles that i did not know as much about.I will be on the lookout now armed with great info.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Gardens Eye Journal-July 2013

    Reply
  3. Carole says

    Have never seen the ladybug eggs. Will be on the lookout.
    I enjoy identifying my sightings and reporting them to the Lost Ladybug Project. They are tracking where the different varieties are located and hope to save the native ladybugs. Sadly, I find very few natives on my property, mostly exotic.

    Reply
    • Beatriz Moisset says

      Thank you for mentioning the Lost Ladybug Project. Here is the link: Lost Ladybug Project. http://www.lostladybug.org/index.php
      Beatriz Moisset recently posted..One Bite out of Three and Wildlife

      Reply
  4. Margarethe Brumermann says

    Good to clear up some popular myths and a cheer for all those native little helpers in the natural garden where even the aphids should have their place. Just watch syrphid larvae, their parasitic wasps, ants, different generations of aphids and lady bugs interact such an interesting micro-cosmos what is a perfectly groomed rose compared to that?
    Margarethe Brumermann recently posted..Sunday Seven

    Reply
  5. Rambling woods says

    I had not heard of buying them. Good post as always.. Michelle

    Reply
  6. Becky Young says

    Great photosespecially that one of the eggs among the aphids! Love that one!
    Becky Young recently posted..When Its All About The Birds

    Reply
  7. Jason says

    Very useful post! I knew the Asian lady beetle was a problem, but had no idea there were so many species of lady beetles!

    Reply
  8. Beatriz Moisset says

    Thanks for the kind comments. Here are a few links that I should have included in the article:

    Discover Life. Hippodamia convergens. Convergent Lady Beetle
    http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q?search=Hippodamia+convergensguide=Ladybugcl=llpshow_images=off

    Ladybird Survey, UK. (Asian Lady Beetle in Britain) http://www.ladybird-survey.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/H_axyridis.htm

    Learn to Grow. Reasons not to buy a Lady Bug. http://www.learn2grow.com/problemsolvers/insectsanimals/insectsbeneficial/BuyingLadybugs.aspx

    Tree Hugger. Why You Shouldnt Buy Ladybugs for Natural Pest Control in your Garden. http://www.treehugger.com/lawn-garden/why-you-shouldnt-buy-ladybugs-natural-pest-control-your-garden.html

    University of California. Lady beetle release controls aphids on potted plants http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.org/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v049n02p5fulltext=yes
    Beatriz Moisset recently posted..Native Bees, Honey Bees and Natural Areas

    Reply
  9. Jock Stender says

    What people wont do for an easy dollar with cute lady bugs. My wife and daughter bought a carton of 1,500 these creatures to combat aphids in my butterfly garden from the local True Value Hardware Store, supplied by Los Angeles, CA-based Organic Control, Inc. (Orcon), which states at http://organiccontrol.com/about/, In 1976 Organic Control Incorporated, or Orcon, began offering a complete line of beneficial insects to the home gardener.

    However, Californias Secretary of State has no listing of this company either as a C corporation, a subchapter S corporation, an LLC or an LLP. Very odd.

    Google maps shows that Orcon is in a tiny building in an industrial / commercial district, just below a huge Bud Light billboard. Again, odd.

    After reading this blog by Beatriz Moisset and the excellent article at http://www.learn2grow.com/problemsolvers/insectsanimals/insectsbeneficial/BuyingLadybugs.aspx, I returned these poor Orcon bugs to True Value Hardware Store.

    Theyre harvested wholesale in California while in hibernation.

    The species is Hippodamia convergens (convergent lady beetle), which is common throughout the United States, ranging from New Jersey to Texas to California, and in Canada and South America.

    Its bad environmental stewardship to collect the convergent lady beetle wholesale in California and transport and sell them in other parts of the country for several reasons.

    First, wholesale harvesting may not be sustainable, and some populations have already been depleted.

    Second, the transported lady beetles may carry pests that would be transmitted to other local lady beetles.

    Third, even if one follows the instructions, most of the beetles are unlikely to stay in your garden.

    If I notice aphids on my asclepias spp., Ill do the simple, inexpensive and environmentally safe thing: spray them with a diluted solution of dish washing soap.

    What some companies will do for a dollar. . .

    And how gullible educated people are about those cute lady bugs. Even my wife and daughter. . .

    Jock Stender, Charleston SC

    Reply
    • Beatriz Moisset says

      Jock: thanks for the additional research. I am glad you explored the matter a little deeper. It is sad to see companies wearing the Eco-friendly mantle. They easily deceive well intentioned people. One wonders how many more there are.
      The sale of the Chinese praying mantis is another issue that worries me. People delights at the sight of one not realizing that this introduced species is driving some of the native ones into a corner. Who needs to keep spreading this invasive! I may want to write an article on this subject. Too many people are unaware of the facts.
      Beatriz Moisset recently posted..One Bite out of Three before Columbus

      Reply
  10. michele says

    Thanks for the ladybug information! I have long admired & protected them in my garden; it is wonderful to learn more about them. The photos, too, were beautiful. Hope to see more interesting & useful critter articles!

    Reply

Trackbacks

  1. Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Plants says:

    [] Ladybird Beetles (Family Coccinellidae) Both the adults and larvae feed on aphids, whiteflies and other soft-bodied insects. See this link for a list of the common species of ladybird beetles and how to identify their larval and adult forms. More information about native and introduced species on Beatrizs post here: Stay away from the non-native Asian lady beetle. Find the origin of the insects you buy. Just as wit []

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  2. Praying Mantises. Which are the Good Ones? says:

    [] month I wrote about lady beetles, also called ladybugs, and discussed some of the problems with buying them as biocontrols for your []

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  4. Reasons Not To Spray | New England Habitat Gardening Blog says:

    [] (Asian Lady beetles tend to be larger than our native lady beetles, and often have more spots. Click here to learn more about the difference between Asian and native lady beetles) []

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  5. There are Different Types of Ladybugs? says:

    [] also have a healthy population of the Asian variety which can be good or bad, depending on your conditions and []

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  6. Biocontrols. Fighting Fire with Fire says:

    [] have created more problems than benefits. I mentioned the Chinese praying mantis and the Asian lady beetle in previous []

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  7. The Creative Itch | Tinasaurus says:

    [] species in North America, and most of them are friends of the gardener and will gobble up aphids. Click here to read more about these beetles if your interest is []

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