The ladybug, commonly referred to as the “ladybird” in Britain, belongs to the family Coccinellidae that consists of various small beetles. These small insects only grow to 0.3 to 0.4 inches long and have a short lifespan, living to a maximum of 4 years.
Depending on your culture, the ladybug has either been a successful gardening tool or simply a good luck charm when landing on your hand. But do these ladybugs bite? And what is their main diet?
Ladybugs are known to have inhabited a variety of different of different niches. These include, but are not limited to, grasslands, forests, cities, suburbs, and rivers.
Typically one imagines a ladybug in their backyard during the spring months where the warm sun touches the garden. Since they belong to the class Insecta, they could have a variety of characteristic dieting habits such as that of plant eaters or preying on smaller insects.
What Do Ladybugs Eat?
So, what exactly do ladybugs eat? Do they eat anything besides the pests found in your backyard? These aphid eaters thrive in suburban areas and grasslands from their protein-rich diets. While their diet mainly consists of aphids, they also gather nutrients from other sources. These include smaller insects such as mites, white flies and scale insects.
They also find sustenance from various pollinating flowers such as Yarrow, Chives, and Feverfew. Being omnivores, they eat both smaller insects and flowers, sometimes even including fungi in their dieting habits.
All of these are important in understanding the life of a ladybug. This diet can be altered depending on if they are wild or kept in captivity for the purpose of pest control.
For this article, let us dive into any questions regarding the diet of a ladybug, either wild or purposefully placed in your captive environment, the garden.
Wild Ladybugs and Aphids
An aphid can be characterized as a micro bug that feeds on and depletes the sap supply of plants. Aphids can be destructive to a garden not only be sucking a plant dry of sap but also from carrying plant diseases.
There are over 4,000 species of aphids, mainly of which can be found in North America, Europe, and Eastern Asia. Interestingly, aphids form a symbiotic relationship with ants. The ants will actually farm “honeydew” from the aphids which is a sugary liquid. In return, the aphids are provided with protection by the ants. This might be able to save them from their most ambitious predator, the ladybug.
Ladybugs are natural enemies to aphids. In fact, they have been known to eat as many as 50 to 60 aphids in one day alone. A single ladybug will eat about 5,000 aphids over the course of its lifetime. Even in the larval stage, these insects will prey upon aphids. But these garden pests are not the only crawlers on the menu.
Wild Ladybugs and Other Bugs
Although they make up the majority of the ladybug’s diet, aphids are not the only insects on the menu. Ladybugs also consume other insects with soft bodies. These include mites, white flies and scale insects. Each of these bugs is also a pest to various plants, making the ladybug an asset to gardeners. A surprising discovery by scientists was also that ladybugs have been known to eat the larval of the same species, which can be explained through the term intraguild predation, or IGP. Not all ladybugs can be classified as a predator.
Do Wild Ladybugs Eat Plants?
Not every ladybug focuses on aphids and small insects to make up their diet. The subfamily Ephilachninae will prey upon fungi such as mushrooms, making them a vegetarian ladybug. In addition to fungus, this subfamily will also consume mildew and plants that could make them a pest to gardeners as well. This group of ladybugs only makes up about 16 percent of the family Coccinellidae. Their round bodies and orange pigmentation with the inclusion of the classical black dots characterize this subfamily. In fact, most ladybug species are omnivores, meaning that they will mostly prey upon insects while taking a bite out of a plant or two.
What Do Wild Ladybugs Eat in the Garden?
Depending on the species of ladybug, this beetle can be a beneficial addition for your garden. They prey upon aphids, mites, white flies, and scale insects, which are a nuisance to any gardener. It is important to remember that they will occasionally prey upon plants, particularly ones containing pollen. Gardeners use these types of plants to attract the natural predator to keep aphids in check.
The plants that ladybugs prefer share a variety of characteristics. They are typically pollen plants with showy flat flowers that act as a landing spot for the ladybug. They also generally contain white or yellow showy petals. As a secondary diet, ladybugs will consume both nectar and pollen to increase their nutrients. This aids in the development of maturation and laying eggs. Ladybugs are attracted the showy plants of these genera:
- Achillea (Yarrow spp)
- Anethum (Dill spp)
- Angelica (Wild Celery spp)
- Allium (Chives spp)
- Calendula (English Marigold spp)
- Carum (Caraway spp)
- Coriandrum (Cilantro spp)
- Cosmos (Cosmos spp)
- Foeniculum (Fennel spp)
- Limonium (Statice spp)
- Lobularia (Sweet Alyssum spp)
- Tagetes (Marigold spp)
- Tanacetum (Feverfew spp)
What Do Wild Ladybugs Eat in the Winter?
In the late autumn and early winter, ladybugs choose to hibernate to avoid the sudden change in temperature to their habitat. During the winter, aphids become scarcer, leaving ladybugs to find a way to survive. If outside, you can often find them huddled together as a coping mechanism, usually under shelters such as tree bark or leaf litter.
They will hibernate in large groups, sometimes numbering thousands. Another option is to use the warmth from a home. If you see a ladybug taking refuge in your house, it is best to put them back outside. This is because they will become active again with no food supply available, often resulting in starvation.
They are also unable to fly when the temperature gets below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Any ladybugs that you find in your house during the cold winter months are non-native.
The ladybugs that enter your house during months of late autumn through early winter are not native ladybugs. In fact, these are the Asian multicolored ladybug (Harmonia axyridis). They are also known as the Harlequin Ladybug. They have a wide diversity of colors, being mistaken for the common North American species, which they also outnumber and compete over the native species’ resources.
They were introduced to the United States as early as 1916 as an attempt to reduce aphid numbers. Native ladybug species use outdoor structures and resources such as tree bark and leaf litter to hide from the winter elements. The Harlequin Ladybug instead enters homes to overwinter. But do these insects require water during the rest of the year?
What Do Wild Ladybugs Drink?
Water is a critical requirement when it comes to ladybugs, particularly those in the early larval stages. As they mature, adult ladybugs are able to consume water from their prey such as the aphids. An insect larva holds the largest amount of water from which they meet this need.
Many children or gardeners like to keep captive ladybugs for a variety of reasons. The diet of that a wild ladybug consumes might contrast from one that has been held in captivity. Let us examine how you might take care of your own pet ladybug.
What Do Captive Ladybugs Eat?
Even though ladybugs primarily feed off of aphids to meet their daily dieting needs, a captive individual is satisfied through different resources. You do not need to go hunting for aphids for your new pet. The Seven-spotted Ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) is one of the most common species to be found in both Europe and North America. They are highly distinguishable by their red bodies and seven scattered black spots.
This species has a diet consisting of aphids to plants, making it an omnivore. In captivity, they can be satiated with small amounts of honey or sugar. In addition to these substitutes, they can also survive off of small pieces of raisins, lettuce or bananas. It is important to not overfeed a ladybug.
What Do Captive Ladybugs Drink?
When caring for your own ladybug, it is important to supply them with the proper requirements, including water. Since they are unable to absorb the water from their meal source, you must give them water. To prevent the risk of drowning, do not use bottle caps full of water. Instead, dampen paper towels or cotton balls. This will ensure that they have enough water in a safe manner.
Do Ladybugs Bite?
Just like any other beetle, ladybugs have two chewing anatomical features called the mandibles. These are used to break down the soft-bodied insects that they prey upon. Mandibles are often serrated for added precision. With these features, ladybugs can technically bite. But this does not mean that it would be enough to penetrate human skin. If a ladybug were to bite you, it would not hurt. The size of their mandibles is too small in relation to the size of a human finger. They also do not have any poison glands or saliva that would mildly irritate the skin. The probability of a ladybug biting a human is rather slim unless provoked.
What are the Main Predators of the Ladybug?
Ladybugs are preyed on by a variety of predators, both big and small. They need to keep a close watch for reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, rodents, birds and larger insects. Another possible threat is the possible event of parasites or mites attacking the ladybug. Humans are also a threat, as some do not agree with their gardening benefits.
What Defense Mechanisms Do Ladybugs have?
Being such a small creature, ladybugs need to defend themselves from a number of different predators. Their most common defensive strategy is through the use of a toxic fluid called hemolymph. This toxin is released from the joints of the ladybug to ward off enemies. Their coloration is also a warning to trick predators into thinking that they are poisonous or dangerous. Contrary to what people might believe, ladybugs can also play dead.
How Many Ladybugs are There Worldwide?
Ladybugs can be found all over the world, growing quickly with the 5,000 known species. North America holds about 400 of those species while the state of California has about 175 species total. They thrive in especially warm climates. In fact, the threatened and endangered U.S. native, Nine-spotted Ladybug (Coccinella novemnotata) can be found in New York State.
Why Do Ladybugs Have Spots?
As mentioned previously, ladybugs have a variety of defense mechanisms. The spots that can be seen on some ladybug species are actually a warning. The combination of black and red, or even orange and black is referred to as aposematic coloration. This is where the colors on the individual make them look unpalatable or poisonous to a predator. The coloration, number of spots, and shapes involved in the pattern are different depending on the ladybug. Some species even lack the use of spots altogether.
Some have said that the number of spots directly correlates to the age of the ladybug. This has been proved wrong, however, since these insects live no more than approximately 5 years.
How Did Ladybugs Get their Common Name?
The name “ladybug” was coined about 500 years ago in Europe. During the Middle Ages, aphids were destroying crops. The Catholic farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help in the growth of their fields. Pink and red are colors that have been associated with women, including Virgin Mary. Rumor has it that when the farmers preyed, they received an answer in the form of red bugs. They soon called these insects as “The Beetles of Our Lady”. The name was then later shortened to what it is now.
Ladybugs are useful to gardeners across North America due to their main diet, the aphid. They also prey upon other insects such as mites, white flies and scale insects. Being omnivores, they will eat plants in gardens. They prefer flowers that will supply them with nectar and pollen. In the winter months, they will hibernate under leaf litter and fallen pieces of bark, unless they are the non-native Harlequin Ladybug that will find refuge inside homes. Hopefully, this article answered a few of your questions regarding these bountiful aphid eaters.