Story and Photographs By Joan Herrmann
Whereiwander… they are beginning to reappear, no not leprechauns, but another which is equally considered “Lucky”. I am talking about Ladybugs. Just a bit of warmth and sunshine brings them from their hiding spots to scamper over the windows. We have misnamed them as bugs; technically they are beetles, not bugs. The ladybeetles are members of the Order Coleoptera (sheath wing). Beetles are the largest order of the animal kingdom, and presently there are more than twenty-four thousand identified species of beetles in North America. Many of the common names for insects incorrectly identify them, for example, neither ladybugs nor June bugs are actually bugs. They are both beetles, fireflies are not flies, they too are beetles. Beetles may be identified by their color or pattern, but a more reliable identification may be determined by its anatomical features. Beetles are covered and protected by an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton serves as both a skeleton and a skin. They have a hard outer wing called an elytron (plural elytra) which covers the softer membranous wings used to fly. The elytra meet in a straight line down the middle of the beetle’s back. The exoskeleton is divided into segments of three body parts which include the head, thorax, and abdomen. The head contains eyes, antennae, and mouthparts. The thorax is divided into three parts. The front prothorax, middle mesothorax, and back metathorax and each of the three contains one pair of legs. The mesothorax and the metathorax each also contain one pair of wings. Most beetles reproduce by laying eggs which then go through a complete metamorphosis; this includes egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Once the egg hatches the larva begins to eat and grow. It may outgrow its skin and shed it as many as eight times or as few as four, depending on the species, each period in-between is known as an instar. The first three stages of a lady beetle’s life may last from seven to twenty-one days. The life span as an adult is usually from three to nine months, dependent on the availability of food and weather conditions.
The lady beetles which I have been observing are Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia axyridis). Their coloring varies from red to orange and they may have as many as ten to twenty spots. Their body is round or oval and domed. As warmth and light changes, we progress into spring and they begin seeking and exiting from their winter hibernation. This beetle’s homes of origin is China, Japan, Korea, and Russia and were brought here in the early 1960s through the 1990s by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, in an effort to control pests that damage apple and pecan trees. They have now established themselves throughout North America from the tens of thousands that were originally brought here. Many consider them a seasonal nuisance because they seek shelter inside our homes, whereas our native lady beetle winters over in leaf litter, logs and crevices outdoors. There are more than four hundred species of lady beetles in North America. Another species that may be found in our area is the Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippomania convergens), it is the one that is frequently sold at greenhouses as a beneficial pest control of invasive insects. Actually all lady beetles are beneficial because they eat aphids and scale insects that may do considerable damage to plants. As a larva, a lady beetle can eat as many as three hundred and fifty aphids a day while the adult female consumes about seventy-five and the male lady beetle, which is smaller, may consume forty aphids a day.
Many beetles have an arsenal of chemicals that they use to protect themselves from predators. Lady beetles bleed from their knees, this sticky yellow hemolymph (insect blood), is an effective deterrent repelling predators. Their red\orange coloring is called an aposematic (warning coloration) that lets predators know they are toxic; both the larva and adult lady beetle has this coloration. The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, in addition, the spots and coloring have “M” shaped marking behind its head. The has been nicknamed the “Halloween Lady Beetle” because of the large numbers of them found in late October and early November. Once the lady beetles have determined the time has arrived to hibernate and have found suitable shelter they begin emitting a pheromone (a chemical used for signaling) to let others of their species know about the sheltering site. Birds are the biggest source of predation of lady beetles, but they are also consumed by frogs, wasps, spiders, and dragonflies.
Many stories, poems, and songs have been written about lady beetles. Maybe you remember this one which appeared in children’s nursery rhyme books; “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home, your house is on fire, your children are gone, all except one and that’s little Anne, for she has crept under a warming-pan”. This version or one similar may have been found in one of your cherished children’s books. Lady beetles are thought to be lucky therefore they have been the inspiration for jewelry, clothing, fabric and even wallpaper. Most people do not find these tiny insects objectionable; in France, they are called “les bêtes du bon Dieu” meaning “beasts of a good God”.
Many excellent insect field guides are available at our local bookstores, online or may be borrowed from our local libraries. It is very beneficial to be able to consult the guides when trying to identify a specific insect and is especially important when there are so many similar species. “BEETLES of Eastern North American by Arthur V. Evans is an excellent book as well as the KAUFMAN Field Guide to Insects of North America. The latter is a favorite of mine because it is easy to use and gives many examples of both the adult and larva stages.
As a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist and Outdoor Educator, Joan Herrmann has been teaching and doing programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers, about 38 years. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995 she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature and also became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute, in Utica, New York she has been educating children and adults, for nineteen years.
In 2007 she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP) and in 2013 and 2014 did a week-long summer program at BROEP in conjunction with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC). Using her love of both nature and photography she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.
Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in the cataloging of all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.
Since October 2016 she has been writing a bimonthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October of 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with My Little Falls Newspaper. You may reach her at Jmphoto8442@gmail.com