Week 8, Day 4: Ladybugs & Beneficial Insects

Ladybugs in southern New Mexico. Ladybugs eat insects like aphids and are beneficial to have in your yard or garden. (Photo by Jerry Oldenettel)

Explore the life cycle of ladybugs in today’s Take It Outside post!

Most people can recognize an adult ladybug. But do you know what a ladybug larva looks like? Or that ladybugs eat aphids, and are most helpful to gardeners during their larval stage?

Learn all about ladybugs and other beneficial insects in today’s post!

Upcoming Event:

Join PEEC staff member Ashleigh Lusher today at 11 AM for our new weekly Critter Chronicles series. Ashleigh will introduce our tiger salamanders, Tam and Titus, via YouTube livestream and answer questions that come in through the live chat! This program will last for about 15 minutes. Tune in here.

Blog Post:

Fifth graders Aislinn Marshall and Liv Niklasson investigate the life cycle of their favorite insect, the ladybug, today on the blog. Read their post here.

Activity:

Every gardener is happy to see ladybugs making a home in their garden. Ladybugs help control other insect pests, including aphids, that eat plants. Play this fun ladybugs and aphids game, inspired by Red Light, Green Light, and then go out to your yard to search for ladybugs!

 

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Look for ladybugs! Ladybugs eat aphids, and aphids eat tender green plant growth. So look around your garden or favorite outdoor space for plants that have tiny green or black aphids on their leaves or buds. You might spot ladybugs nearby.

While you’re looking closely at plants, see if you can spot other insects! Here are some tips:

  • Adult insects often have wings.
  • Eggs are tiny and often hard to see, but look carefully at the backs of leaves for eggs. They come in many shapes and colors, and may be laid singly or in clumps.
  • Larvae range in size from very small to quite large, they might look like a caterpillar or more like an adult, don’t have wings, and crawl around, eating lots of plant parts or other insects.
  • Pupae, a stage between larvae and adults for some insects, often hang from the underside of plants or logs, or lie buried in the ground.

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Black and yellow mud dauber wasps are beneficial insects that help keep spider populations under control. (Photo by Craig Martin)

Create a habitat for beneficial insects in your yard or garden. Beneficial insects will eat and help control pests like aphids, hornworms, and squash bugs. Just like all other critters, beneficial insects need access to food, water, and shelter. Beneficial insects found in New Mexico include ladybugs, lacewings, soft-winged flower beetles, bees and wasps, and more!

Walk around your yard and see what you already provide for our insects and what you could add. Are there adjustments you can make for your yard to be more insect-friendly? Here are four things to think about:

  • Food: Beneficial insects will prey on other bugs in your yard, but many also require nectar and pollen when insects are scarce. Buckwheat, dill, and garden cosmos are all good things to plant to attract beneficial insects.
  • Water: Provide a shallow dish of clean water in your yard so insects can stop by for a drink. Put pebbles inside and fill the dish until they are partially covered. The pebbles will provide a landing spot for wasps and other visitors!
  • Shelter: Beneficial insects will overwinter in the top layers of soil, in plant litter, or under the bark of trees. Leaving some dead plant matter on the ground in your yard can help provide a home for insects. Perennial clovers and native grasses can also help provide habitat for insects.
  • Limit Insecticides: While insecticides can be effective in controlling garden pests, they are also harmful to the beneficial insects that we want to attract! Insecticides are also a temporary solution. Focus on improving your soil health, attracting beneficial insects to your yard, and planting native plants to create a more diverse and healthy ecosystem! This will naturally help control the pests in your yard.

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

What bugs can you find this week?! Tell us in the form below! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us tomorrow to learn about pollinators and our penstemon gardens!

The Life Cycle of the Ladybug

Ladybugs are easy to recognize insects that have a fascinating life cycle! (Photo by Beth Cortright)

By Aislinn Marshall and Liv Niklasson

You may know ladybugs for their pretty colors, but there is much more to them than meets the eye. They are vicious predators, able to eat thousands of aphids in their lifetime. They also go through a life cycle that is at least as interesting as a butterfly’s.

Ladybug larva on a chrysanthemum at the nature center. (Photo by Liv Niklasson)

There are about 5,000 species of ladybugs all around the world. They can survive in practically any climate, and can live for up to 9 months without food! The most common species of ladybug in North America is the convergent ladybug (Hippodamia convergens). They live for about a year. 

The first stage of a ladybug’s life cycle is the same as most bugs: eggs. Ladybug eggs are bright yellow. The females lay eggs in bunches of about 5 – 50, on the undersides of leaves to protect them from flying predators and the weather. They lay eggs many times per season; a female lays about 1,000 eggs in her lifetime. Both fertile and infertile eggs are included in a bunch, so that when the fertile ones hatch, the larvae can eat the infertile eggs. The time it takes for them to hatch can range from 2 – 10 days, depending on the temperature. 

The next stage of the ladybug life cycle is the larval stage. The larvae eat a lot, and their diet includes scale insects, aphids, adelgids, and insect eggs. They are black with yellow spots, and molt four times before pupating. The larval stage lasts for about a month, and when they are ready to pupate, they attach themselves to the undersides of leaves.

The third stage in a ladybug’s life is the pupa. The shell is orange with black spots, and is roughly the same shape as an armadillo shell. While it might seem boring on the outside, the things happening inside the shell are probably the most interesting parts of a ladybug’s life. In the pupa, the larva is broken down completely before the adult forms. The change is controlled by cells called histoblasts, kind of like the hormones that give boys deeper voices or girls wider hips. This entire process takes from 1 – 2 weeks.

A spotless ladybird beetle (Cycloneda sanguinea) on a rose plant. (Photo by Liv Niklasson)

The final stage of a ladybug’s life is an adult. When they come out of their pupae, their shells are a pale gray-green color and their exoskeletons are soft. This makes them vulnerable to predators until it hardens. They eat the same food as the larvae, so they usually live on aphid-infested plants. They can produce a bad-smelling and tasting liquid from their joints to make themselves undesirable meals to birds, skunks, and other hungry predators.

They fly when temperatures exceed 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and when spreading or closing their wings, they fold them like origami so that they fit under their shells. Ladybugs spend the winter in hibernation. They sleep in large groups in cracks and crevices, such as in the bark of a tree, and mate as soon as they wake up. 

Someday in the spring or early summer, go outside and try to find ladybugs in all stages of their life. Look for a plant infested with aphids, or other similar bugs. Look under the leaves for eggs and pupae. Look in the clumps of aphids for larvae and adults. You will usually find ladybugs in all four stages of their life on one plant, or at least in the same area. In the winter, go out and look in fallen logs, tree bark, or any other cracks for hibernating adults.

Watch this fascinating video to see the whole life cycle of a ladybug unfold!