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Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home... The truth on Lady Beetles 

The truth on Lady Beetles

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home

Your house is on fire and your children are gone

All except one, and that's Little Anne

For she has crept under the warming pan.

click to enlarge naturalworld_ladybeetleaphids.jpg
In Medieval England, farmers would set fire to old hop vines after the harvest in order to clear the fields for the next planting. The poem above was a warning to the ladybird beetles that were still crawling on the vines in search of aphids but it's also a warning I heard as a kid when caught playing with those big, old kitchen matches.

Lady beetles are in the Order: Coleoptera: (wherein are all beetles), in the Family: Coccinellidae, and there are about 480 native species throughout North America. Many have colorful and descriptive names, such as: Convergent (for white lines that meet behind the head, sold most often for "pest-control"; Parenthesis (marks on the elytra - the wing covers on the abdomen); Two-spotted, Seven-spotted and Thirteen-spotted lady beetles, so named for the number of spots on the elytra.

If there is any one insect that helps to create something less than frantic fear in children for creepy-crawlies, it's the lovable lady beetle. The other reason is that most people recognize lady beetles as friends to those who keep a kitchen garden or who love to grow honeysuckle without pestiferous aphids. In their lifetime, ladybird beetles devour tons of aphids, and that makes them our friend forever.

I can remember as a kid on the farm, my grandmother telling me that my fondest wish would be granted if a ladybird beetle landed on me and if I made a wish and then blew it "away back home." When I hit 16, and Lila Grundy (who wore the most alluring lilac perfume) entered my life I was in search of lady beetles constantly...

Lady beetles start out their life as tiny eggs, about a tenth of a matchhead in size. The eggs hatch and a carnivorous larva bursts out, and with the ferocious appetite they have for anything smaller themselves, they do not stay tiny for long; within a week they have grown almost 100 percent their original size.

When the larva reaches maturity, the process of metamorphosis takes over and it builds a shell around itself, then begins changing from a larva to adult. To do this, the larva inside the shell breaks down into a biological soup, then the cells rearrange themselves and the adult lady beetle begins to form. And during this time, that "Spark of Life" remains somewhere in a cell.

From the moment the adult lady beetle crawls into the sunlight it's eating something, usually whatever it bumps into - but it's especially attracted to aphids. (It's protected by their color and a sour-smelling oil secreted from the joints in its legs.) Over the millennia that lady beetles have been devouring aphids, I have a hunch there is some kind of sensory ability lady beetle larva and adults developed to locate aphids. I'll also bet that it's not a one-way street. Aphids are getting something out of it as well, but what? I don't know, maybe more stealthy aphids? As Darwin taught us, "time will tell."

In any event, in America, being a nation of "He who survives makes the most money," entrepreneurs discovered there was money to be made selling lady beetles as "natural insect control." And, boy oh boy, do they ever. Gardens Alive sells one package of "Sta-Home" Convergent Lady Beetles for $13.95, or three packages for $35.95.

That "Sta-Home" adjective is clever. Most of the time, when a package of store-bought lady beetles is released, they fly away immediately to help your neighbor. Sometimes it's because it's their "nature," or they've been cooped up too long, or they were captured in Virginia and released in Oregon and have no idea what to do in such a strange environment.

In any event, if you're thinking of buying beetles to eat your aphids, you might want to see what species they are and whether they can live around here. A call to the local OSU Extension office will set you on the right path and probably save you money.

If you go to Lowes website, they have a good page on natural insect control. Green Methods also has a great site (, and provide proper instructions on how to keep lady beetles from "flying away home" after you've spent $20.99 for 4,500 of them.

A warning! Look out for anyone selling or giving away Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles. They have become a pest in many places and we don't need them here.

In 1979 and 1980, the USDA (who should have known better) made several releases of Asian Lady Beetles throughout the eastern United States in an attempt to introduce them into North America. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams! It took a long time for them to establish themselves and spread, but by 1994, Asian Lady Beetles were found in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. They are now well established throughout North America, with frequent reports from the South, Northeast, Midwest and as far as our backyard.

Whatever you do in your garden, Oh Best Beloved, whether it be chemicals or natural control, please play it safe and call your local OSU Extension before you do it; you'll save money and be kind to old Mother Nature. As I've said so often, She needs all the help She can get.


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