Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home

Ladybugs have been admired for hundreds of years. They are beautiful, believed to bring good luck, and have even been praised in song. The great Romantic composer Johannes Brahms created a lovely, folk like melody and words, showing his adoration of our little friends. It is almost impossible to not see some form of the Ladybug , whether in statuary, stepping stones, jewelry, lamps, banners, or the real thing wherever you might go. Ladybugs are one of the wonders of Spring, along with brilliant blue skies and flowers shyly poking their heads up through the soil, reaching for the warming sun. Ladybugs are a symbol of renewed life.

Going back as long ago as the Middle Ages, these insects were also known as the "Beetle of Our Lady." Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was thought that these striking creatures had come from Heaven to save crops. In several places around the world, it is still believed that Ladybugs can predict an abundant harvest or good weather.

Ladybugs are really not bugs but beetles and, according to one source, their proper name is the Ladybird Beetle. North America has between 400 to 450 different species of Ladybugs while there are about 4,000 worldwide. The most prevalent beneficial species of
Ladybugs in North America is the Convergent Lady Beetle. Other common names include Ladybird Beetle, the Asian Lady Beetle, and the Lady Beetle.

The life cycle for all Ladybugs is similar. They lay their eggs in the Spring and upon hatching, the larvae (the stage of development of insects between the egg and the pupae) will feed for many weeks and then pupate into adults. In Fall, the adults feed and then either lay eggs, die, or go into a state of hibernation for the Winter. Spring again brings awakening, to feed and lay eggs.

When it comes to biological pest control, the best known and most popular insects for the job are Ladybugs. Famous for their appetite for aphids, Ladybugs are also voracious in
decimating white fly, mealy bugs, scales, and mites, plus many other soft-bodied insects and will consume boll worm, broccoli worm, cabbage moth and tomato horn worm. Various sources credit Ladybugs with the ability to eat up to either 1,000 or 5,000 (that is a significant difference!) aphids in the beetle's lifetime, in both their larval and adult forms and to work well in gardens and greenhouses.

Ladybug larvae are sometimes known as "aphid lions." Generally, they are black with red-orange spots on the back. They rather look like little alligators, with both the head and tail ends flattened and narrowed down from the rest of the body, and with a ridged and textured surface. Their legs are small and seemingly insignificant but if sufficiently incited, they can move very quickly. Ladybugs, in their larval stage, can surpass adults in their insatiable quest for aphids.

Releasing adult Ladybugs into your garden is not difficult but certain steps must be taken to insure a prompt farewell to the aphids. The suggested manner of release is as follows:
  • Obtain your Ladybugs from a reputable nursery, mail-order firm, or online. Buying them online might be a better idea than going directly to the nursery; there have been many occasions when I have gone for my Ladybugs only to find the garden center either had sold out or never did receive a shipment. Not good.

  • As soon as you arrive home, gently spray a few drops of water into the net bag that is the temporary home to your Ladybugs. Place them (still in their bag) in your vegetable crisper or refrigerator immediately. They will not be harmed by the chilling.

  • While your Ladybugs are cooling, go outside and give your garden a thorough watering. The Ladybugs will be very thirsty from their three to five day journey without any water to drink. You don't want your lovely little predators to get too cold; it is time to take them out of the refrigerator. Brr.

  • The proper time to actually release the Ladybugs into your well-watered garden is just after the sun sets. The cover of darkness will prevent the Ladybugs from being eaten by not-so-friendly birds looking for a snack. If you can't see them, you can't eat them.

  • After you have given your Ladybugs a good drink and tucked them into bed, so to speak, they should wake up the next morning very hungry. Watch out aphids! Your number is up.

  • Never, never, never use pesticides in your garden unless you want hundreds of dead Ladybugs.
Ladybugs will hunt for aphids and other non-acceptable denizens of the garden from dawn until dusk. They really aren't fussy as long as they have fresh water and a steady supply of aphids. For Ladybugs to be able to produce new eggs, they must have aphids or other prey available.

If your Ladybugs are acting sluggish or conversely, are irritable and moving around too quickly, give them a spritz of apple juice or grape juice from a misting bottle. You can use some 7Up, Sprite, or Gator Ade in place of the juices. Be sure to dilute the juices by at least of 50%. The water and sugar will delight them and their grumpiness should disappear, leaving a happy army of hydrated Ladybugs, ready for another meal of Aphids du Jour. Ladybugs are quite territorial; those which have been hatched in your garden will continue to call it home.

Using natural pesticides such as Ladybugs and other predatory insects with rapacious appetites, your garden (especially your roses) will soon be glowing again and be a safe place for your children and pets to play.

Make Ladybugs a family activity. They are cute and harmless to humans and your children will enjoy them so much from gently handling them. At the same time, the concept of the Cycle of Life, from hatching until the end of life, with all the physical changes in between, is easily and painlessly introduced. Your small children will feel so proud of themselves helping Mom or Dad release these stunning, beneficial insects into your garden.

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