Miraculous ladybugs - The hardest working ladies on your farm
Updated: Jul 18
Ladybugs are one of a handful of beneficial insects that play a key role in keeping down populations of harmful insects that can potentially devastate your crops. While they might look cute, ladybugs are fierce predators with a veracious appetite for aphids, eating up to 5,000 aphids over their lifetime. In the wild ladybugs can live for up to 2-3 years, so that's a lot of aphids.
Many organic producers or those looking to reduce their use of pesticides, partner with nature and work to attract beneficial insects to help eliminate harmful insects like aphids, spider mites, mealy bugs and other type of destructive insects on your crops.
In this article we'll cover how to identify ladybugs, their benefits to your garden and how to attract them to your farm.
What are Ladybugs
Ladybugs, also called lady beetles or ladybird beetles are a part of very beneficial group of insects that can help to reduce the population of harmful insects that can devastate crops. While ladybugs might look cute, they are ferocious predators and the natural enemy of many harmful insects.
Ladybugs are a type of beetle. Their scientific name is Coccinellidae. There are over 500 species of ladybugs found in the US, and over 4,500 species worldwide.
In parts of the world, ladybugs are considered a symbol of good luck. The “lady” part of the beetle’s English name refers to the Virgin Mary. In German they are called "Marienkäfer" or “Mary’s beetle”.
Adult ladybugs can be identified by their characteristic convex oval shaped bodies. While all ladybugs are born black, when mature, their coloring can be pink, red, yellow, orange, or black and they are usually marked with distinct spots. Their distinctive spots and attractive colors are meant to make them unappealing to predators. This coloring is a warning to discourage other animals that may try to eat them. Ladybugs will secrete a noxious fluid from their joints which gives them a foul taste to predators.
When threatened a ladybug will draw their head into their shell and will even play dead. Their shell can open to expose a pair of thin, transparent wings which allows them to fly. However ,they will not fly in temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius).
Lifecycle of ladybugs
Ladybugs have a 4 stage lifecycle. Adult females typically lay eggs on plants in clusters (up to 300 eggs). Eggs are often laid in summer or spring and placed near existing colonies of aphids of other insects like scale bugs, mealybugs or aphids to provide a food source for the larvae once they hatch.
Eggs hatch relatively quickly. Ladybug larvae emerge after just 2-5 days. Their larvae have a prehistoric, alligator-like appearance. They have black, spiny bodies with bright spots and a scaled appearance. While these tiny predators look dangerous, they are perfectly harmless to humans. The same is not true for aphids, mealybugs and scale bugs.
Once the larvae hatch, they are veracious predators and will pray on insects for several weeks before entering their pupal stage. While both the larvae and adults are hunters of aphids, the adult ladybug tend to move on to other locations when aphids and other pests are scarce, while the larvae remain.
After their larvae stage the ladybug emerges complete with its antennae, wings, long jointed legs, ready and hungry to eat more aphids.
Benefits of ladybugs
Ladybugs are a beneficial insect partner for any farmer or gardener. They are an eco-friendly way to reduce the pest population in your micro ecosystem and make a significant impact on the many common garden pests that can devastate your harvest. Leveraging lady beetles and other beneficial insects as a pest control method for your farm is an excellent organic-friendly way to protect your crops while reducing the need to utilize pesticides.
In addition to aphids, which are one of the ladybugs favorite food, lady bugs also help to reduce populations of spider mites, mealybugs, corn borers, Colorado potato beetles, thrips, whiteflies, Lace bugs and other pests. Ladybugs are also great little pollinators. In addition to insects they also eat pollen and nectar. As they go from plant to plant hunting for aphids they spread pollen from plant to plant helping to fertilize flowers.
What do ladybugs eat?
As we discussed earlier ladybugs are veracious eaters, both in their larvae stage and as adults. One lady beetle can eat up to 5,000 aphids in their lifetime, eating between 300-400 aphids just during their 2-3 week larval period.
In addition to their favorite snack of aphids, ladybugs also eat:
Colorado potato beetles
Spider mites and other mites
How to attract ladybugs to your garden
Now that you see the benefits of having ladybugs in your garden, let's examine how to attract them. While you can purchase ladybugs at your local garden center or online, ideally you should try to develop an environment in your garden that welcomes and encourage ladybugs to make your garden their home. The following are some helpful and simple tips to attract native ladybugs to your garden and farm.
Add a Water Source
Like all living things, ladybugs need water to survive. Try to provide them with a water source by leaving out shallow water bowls or by placing a few damp paper towels in your garden.
Build a ladybug house
You can create a simple and friendly shelter for ladybugs by planting low ground-cover plants, like thyme or oregano. This shelter provides the lady beetles a place to hide from predators looking to eat them. You can also build them a ladybug house to encourage them to take up longer residence. A lady bug house is simply a small wooden box filled with pieces of wood or bamboo. You can attract them to the ladybug house by placing some sugar water or raisins inside. This house also helps to attract other beneficial insects, like bees and green lacewings. Check out these DIY ladybug house plans.
Avoid using pesticides
Most pesticides don't discriminate between good and bad bugs. In particular you should avoid the use and application of broad-spectrum pesticides. These chemical pesticides are not selective in the insects they affect and can devastate populations of beneficial insects like ladybugs and honey bees. In actually, by reducing the population of these beneficial insects through pesticide use you can actually create room for harmful garden pests to multiply. If you must use chemical pesticides, try using targeted pesticides that selectively target specific pests and avoid the use of broad-spectrum pesticides.
Give your ladies some flowers
As we've mentioned, ladybugs also love to eat nectar and pollen. Planting brightly-colored flowers through out your garden can help attract ladybugs and other beneficial insects like lacewings and bees. Consider Cosmos, Calendula or Marigolds to help attract these insect allies. These flowers and plants also provide an additional shelter for the ladybugs.
Plant aphid attractive plants
Since we're talking about how to get rid of aphids by using ladybugs you might wonder why you'd want to attract more aphids to your garden. You can use the practice of planting decoy plants that are not your main crop to attract aphids away from the crops you want to protect. These decoy plants will attract aphids and lure them away from other potential crops you want to protect. The more aphids you have, the more it will encourage ladybugs into your garden. Some effective aphid attracting plants include early Cabbages, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, and Radishes.
If you're having trouble attracting or maintaining a healthy population of ladybugs in your garden, you might consider purchasing them and releasing them. You can typically purchase ladybugs from your local garden center or from online sources. While this seems like a quick and easy way to add ladybugs, it's not ideal, as foreign ladybugs can sometimes be damaging to a local eco-system.
If you decide to purchase ladybugs, follow these tips on how to safely release and store them.
Release in early evening - Wait until dusk to release lady bugs to avoid them flying away when it's too hot and sunny.
Release them after watering - Because ladybugs can get dehydrated quickly, before you release them spray the garden with plenty of water.
Not ready to release them? Stick them the fridge - If you aren't ready to release the ladybugs immediately you can store them in refrigerator as their health tends to deteriorate quickly at room temperature.
Which plants attract ladybugs?
By growing a bio-diverse garden will also encourage a healthier environment, you can specifically attract more ladybugs to your garden with some of their favorite plants and flowers. Here's a list of some plants to consider adding to your garden to attract ladybugs:
Queen Anne's lace
These familiar, cute and unassuming insects are one of many beneficial insects that you should try to protect and encourage to live in your garden. They are an excellent partner and ally in the fight against crop destroying insects and can be a serious weapon in the organic farmer's toolkit.
Here are some additional resources to learn more about ladybugs: