June 26, 2013: Ladybug, Fly Away to My Home

~by Susi Pittman

Can you imagine a creature that has the capability of eating 5,000 harmful plant sucking insects in up to a six week time span? Those of us who garden seriously, seriously know the importance of one of the gardens most vibrant defenders…the Ladybug!

Around the globe, the ladybug goes by other names, such as ladybird beetle or lady beetle. This small insect is revered by farmers and orchard and plant nurserymen for pest control. One of the reasons being, that the ladybug comes with quite a remarkable history. They are recognized as being the sole salvation of the citrus industry in California in the 1880’s. An imported scale insect was killing citrus trees with abandon. An imported Australian ladybug colony eradicated the scale colony in just two years and the citrus flourished again. It was also in the Middle Ages that Europe was suffering from an insect infestation that was killing crops and causing starvation. It was said that prayers went up all over the land to the Virgin Mary and the colorful little beetles began showing up eating all the destructive bugs. The people gave the heroic insect the name ladybug in honor of Our Lady the Virgin Mary. It is said that their spots represent Mary’s joys and sorrows.

The ladybug is a colorful small insect, usually no more than ¼ of an inch in size with a half-dome shell, short legs and two antennae. Their unique colorations let other predators know “I don’t taste good!” The most common colors for the ladybug are red, orange and black and the lesser seen grey and white variety.

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There are 400- 500 different species in the United States and almost 5,000 worldwide. The best ladybug species for the farm or garden is called hippodamia convergens, recognizable for the two white dashes above the wing casings.

These ladybugs will lay clusters of 20-50 orangish pods that hold hundreds of eggs among the plant eating pests, which hatch and set about the task of eating plant pests like aphids, mealybugs, spider mites and scale insects. It is also important to recognize the larva of the ladybug and not remove or kill them. They are quite unique, in that they are blue-black in color and larger than the adult ladybug and elongated in appearance.

With all of their beneficial attributes, why not think of building a ladybug community in your garden? You can choose to order wild-harvested ladybugs or you can do it the natural way by introducing ladybug friendly plants into your yard to attract your native species.

Let’s talk a moment about the wild-harvested variety. You can usually find these sold over the internet and at retail outlets. The problem with these ladybugs is that they have been harvested usually from where they have flown to hibernate for the winter. They are literally scooped up by the thousands and shipped to retailers all over or held in refrigeration to break their hibernation. Either way, you lose. The ones sent to retailers have not had their hibernations broken and they won’t lay eggs when released. The ones which have had their hibernation broken will usually fly off after being released, (usually right off your property to some other area) which is their normal pattern of behavior.

Another factor to consider is that introducing non-native species of ladybugs to your area may be detrimental to the native population. You don’t want that!

This leaves you with the second alternative…encouraging your local native ladybug population  to hang around your property. You can do this with plants that they like.

Our personal favorites:

  • Dandelion
  • Queen Anne’s Lace
  • Fennel
  • Tansy
  • Marigold
  • Cilantro

Also, make your property hospitable to ladybugs by providing water, shelter and food. For shelter, consider buying a ladybug house to place in your garden. For food, plant some decoy radishes in an area apart from your garden that you allow the garden pests to feed on, thereby allowing the ladybugs a continual source of nutrition.

As a good ladybug steward you must remember that insecticides are a no-no.

This Spring, invite the ladybug to come and stay at your garden and enjoy the benefits of being connected properly with the creation about you.

Never hurt a ladybug
We need them in the garden
Ladybugs help flowers grow
So we must give them pardon!
~ Author Unknown

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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