Lady Beetles (Ladybird Beetles; Ladybugs)

Nearly 500 species in North America north of Mexico

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Seven-spotted lady beetle on a flower
The seven-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata) is a stereotypical lady beetle: it is reddish with black spots, has a shiny, round, domed body, a flat underside, and tiny antennae.
Donna Brunet
Family

Coccinellidae (ladybird beetles) in the order Coleoptera (beetles)

Description

There are many species in the lady beetle family. Most are brightly colored, often shiny, typically red, orange, or yellow, and usually spotted, often with black. Several are all or mostly black. Their bodies are hemispherical, circular or oval and dome-shaped, and flat underneath. The antennae are short. The head can tuck (entirely or in part) beneath the pronotum (the shoulderlike or necklike part between the head and the shell-like forewings, or the elytra). The pronotum is often patterned to look something like a head. Like other beetles, they have shell-like forewings that meet together in a straight line down the back (this helps distinguish them from the many members of the "true bug" order whose wings generally form an X pattern when folded on the back).

The larvae are long, segmented, soft-bodied, and rather lizard-like, with six legs; they are often camouflaged with patterns in gray, tan, black, and brown, and often have small bristles.

Size

Length: to ½ inch (varies with species).

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Lady beetle larva with aphids
Lady Beetle Larva With Aphids
Lady beetle larvae are long, segmented, soft-bodied, and lizard-like, with six legs, and are often gray, tan, black, and brown, with small bristles. They devour aphids, which suck the sap from plants.

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Convergent lady beetle crawling on a leaf
Convergent Lady Beetle
One of our many native lady beetles, the convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens) is named for two short white lines on the black pronotum (shoulderlike section behind the head) that converge toward each other.

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Four-spotted lady beetle on a leaf
Four-Spotted Lady Beetle
Not all Missouri lady beetles are red with black spots. This species, the four-spotted lady beetle (Brachiacantha quadripunctata), reverses the pattern.

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Polished lady beetle crawling on a twig
Polished Lady Beetle
The polished lady beetle (Cycloneda munda) is another of our native lady beetles. It's also called "red lady beetle" and "immaculate lady beetle." The members of its genus, Cycloneda, are called "spotless lady beetles."

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V-marked lady beetle crawling on a flower
V-Marked Lady Beetle
Many of our native lady beetle species are quite beautiful. The V-marked lady beetle (Neoharmonia venusta) is very attractive. The pattern can vary greatly among individuals, but most in this species have a V on the back.

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Multicolored Asian lady beetle on a flower
Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle
The multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) was imported to America to help control aphids. It is now well established and has become a nuisance. They often enter homes in large numbers as they seek shelter in late autumn. They emit a foul-smelling chemical when threatened.

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Multicolored Asian lady beetle larva walking on a concrete wall, closeup
Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle Larva
Multicolored Asian lady beetle larvae are not as variable as the adults. They are very dark gray with rows of 2-branched spines; note the pattern of the orange markings.

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photo of different color patterns of multicolored Asian lady beetles
Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle Variety
The multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, an introduced species, has many color forms and patterns.
Habitat and conservation

Lady beetles can fly and crawl to wherever they can find food. Since their favorite foods are usually aphids and scale insects, which are usually attached to plants, lady beetles are usually found near vegetation. Some species, including introduced Asian lady beetles, enter homes in large numbers, seeking warmth, when the weather turns cold.

Foods

Most lady beetles (especially during their juvenile, growing stages) prey on other insects, especially aphids and scale insects, which suck plant juices and can injure crops. They also eat the larvae of flies and other minute caterpillars, insect eggs, and more. Some lady beetle species eat plants, fungi that grow on plants, or pollen.

image of Lady Beetles Ladybird Beetles Ladybugs Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Economically important for their agricultural service in eating aphids and other insects injurious to crops.

The multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) was imported to America to help control aphids. It is now well established and has become a nuisance. They often enter homes in large numbers as they seek shelter in late autumn. They emit a foul-smelling chemical when threatened.

There has been much discussion in social and even news media attempting to distinguish between supposed genuine "ladybugs" and the introduced "lady beetles." The fact is, all of the insects in family Coccinellidae are beetles, and calling any of them “ladybugs” is inaccurate. That is why biologists prefer to call all the members of this family "lady beetles" or "ladybird beetles." They prefer to use the word "bug" only for members of the true bug order (the Hemiptera), such as cicadas, aphids, leafhoppers, stink bugs, and assassin bugs. (Common names, although beloved, are often misleading. Another example is the so-called lightning bugs or "fireflies," which also are actually beetles; they are neither true bugs nor true flies.)

Life cycle

Like many insects, a lady beetle hatches from an egg, goes through immature stages as it eats and grows, then becomes a winged, sexually mature adult. Lady beetles have four juvenile stages, each of which can look quite different from the others. Then they enter an inactive, shell-covered pupal stage, while they undergo metamorphosis, and later emerge as adults.

Human connections

Lady beetles are a tremendous help to farmers and gardeners, performing natural, nontoxic pest-control.

Some of the Asian lady beetle species that were introduced to help control crop pests have become pests themselves, entering houses in foul-smelling masses when the weather turns cold. Fortunately, they are not harmful, only annoying.

The “lady” in the name arose in Medieval times, apparently when the grateful English thanked “Our Lady” (the Virgin Mary) for the presence of these agricultural helpers. Germans call these insects Marienkäfer, “Mary beetle,” probably for the same reasons.

Ecosystem connections

The fertility of aphids and scale insects is staggering, and without legions of tiny predators like lady beetles, lacewings, and others, they have the potential to cause great harm to plants. Unfortunately, indiscriminate forms of pest control also harm the many insects that are natural exterminators.

Many kinds of animals prey on lady beetles. For one example, researchers in Wyoming discovered some grizzly bear scat that contained only the undigestible shells of thousands of lady beetles.