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Are Ladybugs Helpful Bugs?

There are some people who absolutely refuse to kill ladybugs.  If they find them inside, they will gently move them outside so as not to harm them.  For more than a thousand years, ladybugs have a reputation for being “helpful” bugs.  In medieval times, ladybugs were thought to be sent from heaven in order to help protect the crops and the French word for ladybug means “creatures of God”.  The word ladybug comes from the medieval times when people would call the insect “The Bug of Our Lady” in deference to the Virgin Mary.  The question is:  is this reputation well deserved?

Ladybugs do help us out a lot simply by being a great predator.  They feast on many of the nuisance bugs, insects, insect eggs, larvae and mites that can cause us problems in our backyard and homes.  They actually can eat up to 60 aphids, a small but nasty garden pest, per day.  That’s a lot for such a little critter.

Many people who prefer organic insect treatments for their gardens will purchase ladybugs and let them loose in the backyard on purpose!  However, if the backyard doesn’t provide a source of pollen as well, the ladybugs will quickly move elsewhere.  Plants that ladybugs require for their pollen needs include scented geraniums, fennel, dill, yarrow, wild carrot or dandelions.

One interesting fact is that a ladybug isn’t really a bug.  It is a beetle because they chew their food instead of sucking.  For this reason, ladybugs are also known as lady beetles or even ladybird beetles.

Ladybugs hibernate during the winter and will find cozy spaces under leaves, in the cracks of trees or even under the siding to stay.  Birds believe that ladybugs make a tasty dinner and are one of the primary predators of these cute little creatures.  Many other possible predators stay away because ladybugs can emit a foul-smelling spray from their legs and their distinctive bright coloring serves as a warning that they taste bad.

Another interesting fact is that we sent ladybugs on a space shuttle mission in 1999.  The astronauts took up four ladybugs they named John, Paul, Ringo, and George after the Beetles (pun intended, I’m sure!).  They did an experiment with ladybugs and aphids to determine how gravity (or the lack thereof) affected the predator-prey relationship of these tiny animals.  On earth, the aphid will often drop off the leaf in order to avoid becoming dinner for the ladybug and the question was:  would this defense mechanism work in the absence of the gravity? In the end we learned that the ladybugs continued to feast on the aphids and the absence of gravity didn’t make much of a difference.

It’s very difficult to tell males of the species apart from females, so males of the species are also called ladybugs, even though technically – they are not ladies.

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