Wilderness Underfoot: Ladybugs awaken

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114184791811629.jpg’, ”, ‘Ladybugs are some of nature’s most voracious (and slowest) predators – They wander along branches and leaves, usually preying on insects that survive by sucking plant juices or chewing leaves. Ladybugs have a preference for slow- moving creatures, such as the aphid (shown above). Because their prey are often destructive to crops, gardens, and ornamental plants, ladybugs have an important role in controlling these pests.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114184794711615.jpg’, ”, ‘Asian ladybug: annoying but useful – Harmonia axyridis has become a pest by infesting man-made structures each autumn in search of winter shelter. There is debate whether this ladybug was first introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help control pecan aphids, or whether it was introduced on freighters from Japan docking in New Orleans. Since the 1960s, it has spread throughout the country. While our native species have well-defined color patterns, the Asian ladybug’s patterns are extremely varied. The wing color may be red, orange, yellow, tan or solid black. Any number of spots may cover wings, although the patterns are always roughly symmetrical. This ladybug is distinguished from our native species by the black letter “M” on its thorax. It bites, and if disturbed it can emit a foul odor. Even so, this bug helps control destructive insects, consuming as many as a 1,000 aphids in a lifetime.’);

These are the insects you’re most likely to find during the winter, creeping around your house when stirred from their hibernation by the warmth of the sun

The ladybug is recognized by children worldwide, and it is among the most liked of all insects. Its cute, round shape and bright colors make the ladybug an appealing creature just to look at, and a favorite theme of crafters and decorators.

That may seem odd, considering this creature is a voracious predator that can emit a horribly foul-tasting liquid if any other animal makes the mistake of eating it. The bright colors serve as a warning, and you should avoid touching your eyes after contact with this bug. That foul liquid can be irritating. Mostly, however, the ladybug is harmless to humans.

If you’ve ever found yourself in the path of a ladybug in flight, you know that this creature is a clumsy flyer. Its wings are covered by “shells,” actually called elytra, that open up during flight. The ladybug is content to walk most of the time, taking to the skies in search of new places to eat, or mating partners.

After mating, female ladybugs lay their eggs close to unsuspecting colonies of their favorite prey—aphids. When the larvae hatch, they immediately begin their careers as hunters. Within a week or two, they turn into pupae, and then about a week later, they emerge as adults. Their lives are measured in a few short months, or somewhat longer for those that winter over.

Native ladybugs seem to be well-behaved compared to their Asian counterparts. The Asian variety has a tendency to swarm on buildings, invade homes, and bite. Its bite is bothersome, but harmless.

From the March 8-14, 2006, issue

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