Lady Bugs

2 min

Like so many every-day creatures, the lady bug is a pretty amazing creature with remarkable attributes. Michael Ellis explains.

Last week there was a report of an 80-mile-wide mass of ladybugs that showed up on weather radar in southern California. That is one impressive swarm of these most loved, admired and respected of all the "creepy crawlies." Two-year-olds and insect phobics readily hold them. Nursery rhymes tell of their concern for fire and propensity to fly home when their children are all alone. Familiar throughout the world, they technically should be called ladybird beetles.

There are 175 species in California but the most common is the Convergent Ladybug, most likely the ones seen on radar.

In the Central Valley and other lowland areas, an adult ladybug will lay around 1,500 eggs. These hatch in about five days into alligator-shaped larvae that are black with orange spots. These larvae are voracious eaters and feed on pollen and aphids. One teenage ladybug may eat 400 aphids before becoming an adult, endearing ladybugs to gardeners.

By early June, when it’s hot and dry, adult ladybugs fly up as much as a mile until they reach a temperature ceiling of 55 degrees. The breeze then blows them to their next promised land, often the mountain foothills. But an east wind will propel some of them to the coast. Hence the swarm seen on the radar.

For nine months ladybugs form massive colonies along the coast and in the mountains. In the Sierra they have been found at 6,000 feet huddling and surviving under snow drifts, basically hibernating and living off their accumulated aphid fat.

Why the colossal clusters? Maybe predators are discouraged from eating ladybugs because of the obnoxious odors emitted by the large group. But another major factor may be sex. In these large groups females have a wider selection of potential mates. The best partner is the fattest one because he has been able to store the most energy during the brief feeding period. This is a good attribute to pass on to your offspring. On warm days a veritable sexual orgy takes place in the ladybug clumps.

Mother Goose never mentioned this.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

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