Good Girls

While classified as a beetle, finessing the factoid that half are not all female, this ruby red beetle, Coccinellidae, from the Latin coccineus, meaning scarlet, does identify as a ladybug. Happy in many varied habitats such as cities, forests, and grasslands, these European natives were first brought to North America to control aphids in the mid 1900s. They did. With their hearty pest consuming appetites, an adult ladybug can devour 75 aphids a day. Ladybugs also enjoy moth eggs, mites, scales, thrips, leaf hoppers, mealybugs, chinch bugs, asparagus beetle larvae, whitefly among other delicacies during their year long life cycle. They were a hit. California is now home to some 100 species of ladybugs (there are 5000 worldwide) and ladybugs have reached the status of the official state insect for Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Tennessee though not in California where our state insect is Dogface Butterfly.


Ladybugs possibly got their name and earned a good reputation from early European farmers who, looking for help against the pests devouring their crops, prayed to the Virgin Mary. Her answer was the beetle. The beetles proved to be accomplished and considerate pest controllers because they did not damage crops in the process. In thanks, the farmers named them the beetle of Our Lady, first shortened to lady beetle then ladybug. They are often thought of as good luck, lucky ladies. In England a ladybug is a sign of a good harvest, in Sweden, a ladybug landing on a young girl’s hand is a signal she will soon be married. A grouping of them is called a loveliness.

Hand-painted ladybugs on an eggshell. Photo by Virginia Lawrence.

That fashionable ladybug red color, sometimes with decorative black dots, differing from the beetle basic black that does add to their appeal, is actually a signal to predators not to proceed. If threatened, ladybugs can take care of themselves by releasing a nasty smelling chemical that dissuades their enemies.


They can also fly away and in fact have been flown to outer space. Four ladybugs along with a jar of aphids traveled up on a space shuttle. Doing their bit for science, the ladybugs were part of a study on zero gravity. As it turned out the ladybugs managed very well without the help of gravity. They handily captured their prey, the aphids, and ate them at zero gravity.


Clearly a help to farms and gardens internationally, ladybugs are not only used in small gardens locally but also by large institutions such as the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and San Diego Zoo Safari Park where they an aid to pest control management.