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Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home

By Sharon Moffat I

n the fading months of summer, as temperatures fall and daylight shortens, it is not uncommon to

witness the movement of large numbers of ladybugs into the garden, slipping under piles of fallen leaves and other garden debris on the ground, as well as into houses through the smallest cracks and crevices. Ladybugs overwinter as adults, tucked into what they hope are cozy, sheltered spots that get adequate snow cover to enable them to survive cold winter temperatures. Ladybugs, also known as ladybirds,

are in the insect order of beetles called Coleoptera. This is the largest order of insects, containing around 24,000 species in North America and almost 400,000 species around the world. Beetles undergo complete metamor- phoses and change from egg to larva, pupa and finally to the adult life stage. It is this final stage that is most familiar to people. The reddish-orange Volkswagen,

beetle-shaped ladybug is instantly recog- nized from their abundance in gardens and their appearance in many children’s poems and stories. Ladybug beetles are also sometimes used as design elements by companies or organizations hoping to convey their environmental sensitiv- ity. The ladybug is most often thought of as a beneficial insect and is liked by most people, especially children. These cute insects are endeared

warriors of the garden, a gardener’s best friend, due to their great appetites for devouring aphids and other small, soft-bodied insects that can do exten- sive damage to plants. But while people

“Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home Your house is on fire, and your children will burn,

All except for little Nan, weaving gold laces as fast as she can.”

This song originates in medieval England, where people would sing the song when burning crops after harvest. Sung to the lingering ladybugs, her chil- dren the larvae who could crawl away, and Nan the pupa fastened to the burn- ing leaves. Such a happy song! Ladybug pupae.

Ladybug larvae.

easily recognize adult ladybug beetles, they don’t always recognize ladybug larvae when they encounter them and may be tempted to destroy them due to their less than cute appear- ance. The larvae are often described as alligator-shaped and are mainly black with orange areas. They are also quite spiney and longer in the body than the adults. Both the adults and larvae can eat large amounts of aphids with numbers in the thousands. There are companies that sell lady-

bugs, both the adults and the larvae, but it is likely a better idea to create a garden that is full of a diverse range of plants to attract them. Many plants are attractive to ladybug beetles includ- ing lamb’s ears, nasturtiums, yarrow, morning glory, goldenrod, euonymous

Adult ladybug.

and Queen Anne’s lace. It is also helpful to have hiding places

for the beetles, so don’t worry about picking up every fallen leaf you see! This is especially useful in the fall when the gregarious ladybug beetles are converg- ing in sometimes very large numbers, to overwinter together in gardens under the plant materials that are left on the ground in the fall. P

Sharon Moffat has a Plant Science degree from the University of Manitoba and has worked for the City of Winnipeg’s Insect Control Branch for the past 24 years.

How the ladybug got its name

One story about how the ladybug was named dates back to the Middle Ages. Farmers, swarmed with insects that were ruining their crops, prayed to the Virgin Mary for assistance. Soon after they began to see ladybugs in their fields and their crops were saved. “Lady” refers to the Virgin Mary, and the spots of the seven-spot lady bug represent her seven joys and sorrows. In Germany they are called Marienkafer which means ‘Mary beetle’.

Beautiful Gardens 2014 • 29

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