Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home….

What if you were met face to face with a creature that had barbed mandibles to rip apart prey, poisonous and bitter blood to ward off potential attackers, and was a ravenous predator that devours thousands during its lifetime? Does this description cross your mind when a ladybug lands on your arm? I didn’t think so. But the little ladybug, or as it is also called, ladybird or lady beetle, is more than just what meets our human eyes. We see the adorable beetle as a gentle bug bringing us a dose of good luck as it gently lands and waddles across our skin. However, beyond the charming polka dot pattern there is a whole other side to the ladybug.

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(Compact and cute, it’s no wonder we all delight in the sight of the ladybug.)

That spotted dome (red, yellow, orange, black), so sweet and alluring to our human eye, is actually a stark warning to other predators who might be interested in taking a nibble. If the predators ignore the warning and sink their teeth or beaks into the ladybug, the ladybug will bleed a poison from its leg joint and give the attempted predators a blast of stinky, bitterness. They should have heeded the warning. It would be like us speeding riding through a bright, red traffic light and then wondering why our car got smashed up. The other defense the ladybug takes against its predators is “playing possum”. Yep, the possum isn’t the only one that has a market on this defense. The lady bug will tuck in its legs and pretend to be dead. If the predator still attacks, out comes the squirt of poison. That’s what the predators get for being gluttonous enough to try to eat a dead beetle.

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(This little lady says, “Back off!”)

How about when the tide is turned and the ladybug becomes the predator? The thought of a ladybug tearing into a pest doesn’t seem as bad a something tearing into a ladybug, does it? Might seem a little unfair, but I think there is more to it than just the thought of those polka dots being shredded apart. It’s the fact that ladybugs are so very beneficial to us. They help us get rid of pests that invade our garden that we may otherwise have to spray with a chemical. Ladybugs, with their voracious appetite, will do the job for us. They reside in areas with pest infestations, especially aphids, and remain there as long as there is something to eat. Meaning, they stay until the job is done! Aphids love to attack roses, and ladybugs love to do nothing more than shove aphids into their mouths. Deposit some ladybugs in your rose garden and watch them fly around shouting, “Get in my belly!” They can eat around 50 aphids per day! Now that’s an appetite! Even ladybug larvae eat aphids.

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(This one’s getting a full belly on the crazy amount of aphids on this Hyacinth Bean vine.)

Now that it is spring, ladybugs are ready to go to work; so let them do just that and they’ll take some of the workload off of you. Release them into your garden and allow them to go on a feeding frenzy that could rival a fox in a hen house. Here’s how to release them: Bring your ladybugs home and store them in a cool place until you are ready to release them in your garden. Best time to release them is early evening when it is just starting to get dusk. Ladybugs don’t fly at night, so releasing them at this time ensures that they are less likely to “fly the coop”. Lightly water the area before you release the ladybugs for they will be thirsty from being packaged. Make sure you are in the area you want to release them in because they will scramble out, stampeding over each other, like someone just yelled, “Fire!” in an auditorium! Maybe you should warn any children that may be around that this will happen so you don’t have a pandemic of swatting hands and crushed ladybugs. Sprinkle or mist the area again after the release and “voila”, you have just created a ladybug habitat and an aphid death field. The ladybugs will stay in that area and feast until the pests are gone. Make sure you don’t treat the area with any pesticides, or you will also be causing the ladybugs to meet their demise.

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(Don’t say I didn’t warn you! They swarm.)

If you like the thought of an organic garden, there’s no better way than to simply let nature do the work for you. You will be making your plants happy by keeping them pest free, making the earth happy by eliminating the use of harsh pesticides, and you will make yourself happy by getting to see and visit the dainty ladybugs in your garden.

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(Just makes you smile, doesn’t it?)

I focused solely today on the ladybug, but there are other beneficial insects that can help you out too. You can read up on beneficial nematodes, praying mantis and red wiggler worms, by clicking here, and looking under the Beneficial Insects/Worms category.

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(Children and ladybugs, they just go together.)

As a child, I remember being so excited when I would find that a ladybug had picked me to land on. I would recite a poem and wait for the ladybug to flit off to another destination. Ladybird, ladybird fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children are gone. All except one, and her name is Ann, and she hid under the baking pan. (English poem, c. 1744)

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The Happy Gardener

Lisa Mulroy

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