Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Much Do You Know About the Lady Warrior?

When I'm puttering around weeding, I'm always on the lookout for lady beetles (ladybugs) because I love their bright little spots. These adorable insects also happen to be one of the best garden warriors I have. While they act all cute to me, in reality they show up in my garden with a fork and a knife and go to work on thrips, scales, mealy bugs, spider mites, and aphids (they can eat up to 75 aphids a day).

Being such a tough little lady means these cuties know how to deal with predators. They can emit a foul odor from their knees to let anyone know they don't taste good. Sometimes I wish I had that power when I'm out with my friends for a beer.

Lady beetles have 4 stages of their life cycle: egg, larvae, pupa, adult. The larvae and adult are the stages when they are active and feeding.

Eggs are usually laid on the undersides of leaves to protect them from predators. Once they hatch, the larvae can eat 350-400 aphids (a favorite meal) each in just a few weeks. Once they are ready, they will pupate. During pupation, the insect is changing from a long alligator looking thing to the spotted beetle we all know and love.

lady beetle larvae
Lady beetles hibernate as adults in the winter (called diapause) in large groups. They are able to stay alive for up to nine months living on stored reserves. They gather in protected places like in logs, buildings, or under ground cover. They will break diapause when the temperature gets above 55 degrees F, when food is available again.

You can encourage lady beetles in your garden by providing a log or two with the bark still on for habitat, and also not using ANY pesticides on your property, including the "organic" ones. Also, some lady beetles like to feed on pollen and nectar, so planting dill, cilantro, and yarrow will help them hang out and make babies in your garden.

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