Children all over the word enjoy this customary poem today. However, few know that the poem originates from medieval folklore. The burning of vines to clear fields after summer harvest probably refers to it. Today, ladybugs are used to symbolize good luck and fortune. So if you are down on your luck grab one of those crunchy ladybug fortune cookies!
Ladybugs, also known as lady beetles and ladybirds, are magnificent creatures. They come in all sizes and each have unique colorful spot variations. Of the nearly 6,000 (although scientists discover more species over time and so the estimated number increases) different species of ladybugs in the world, only a small fraction (less than 10%) of these inhabit North America. Huge amounts of lady beetles can be found among crops and other habitats of aphids. Can you guess why? Their diet is mainly compiled of aphids, but they also eat moth eggs, small insects, and pollen. If desperate or necessary, their last resort is cannibalism. The approximate size of the ladybird ranges from two millimeters to eight millimeters. The female ladybirds tend to be slightly (not that big of a difference) larger than males. The ladybug has a limited lifespan of one to two years. The female beetle will lay about 20 to over 1,000 eggs in three months during spring or summer.
A ladybug's life cycle is only four to eight weeks! Although their life cycle is not extensive, it certainly is amazing. It all begins with the eggs that the female ladybug lays. The eggs are usually laid in or near an aphid colony. When the time is right and the ideal conditions are present, the eggs will hatch as larvae, the first stage of the ladybug's life cycle. Immediately after it hatches, the larvae feasts on its damaged egg for its very first meal. After that, it may eat any aphids nearby. The larva has of four different growth stages, which together last for about a month (20-30 days). At the end of each growth stage the larva sheds it's old skin and emerges with a new more elastic skin that will allow it to continue growing. Next, in the ever-continuing cycle of the ladybeetle, is the pupa stage, which lasts from three to twelve days. After the larvae have finished their growth in the pupa stage, the adult ladybug emerges. At first it is very soft and often pale in color, without spots. The wing covers begin to harden and the spots develop gradually like a picture taken with an instant camera. Soon the ladybug is ready for its first adult meal. Food must be the first priority for ladybugs! The daily life of a ladybug will vary from season to season. Like bears and groundhogs, some (not all species) ladybirds will hibernate during the cold winter. They will often choose a comfortable and sheltered area with plenty of space to survive the freezing temperatures of wintry weather. When spring arrives, they will wake from their three-month long nap and fly upon the newfound spring wind.
The ladybug's morphology is quite elegant. That may explain why it is such a popular image in many forms of folk art. Most ladybugs have red, orange, or yellow elytra (wing covers to protect the ladybug's fragile wings) and black spots. Some are black with red spots whereas others have no spots at all! There are even some metallic blue species and some have checkerboard markings or stripes. The markings are useful in identifying and classifying ladybugs. The pronotum can be found behind the ladybug's head and often has spots on it. It is helpful in hiding and protecting the head. Like all other insects, ladybugs have a head, abdomen, and thorax. Ladybugs use their antennae to touch, smell, and taste. Every component of the ladybug's body has a certain function, which helps the ladybug survive.
Ladybugs are more than just pretty visitors to your backyard garden. Ladybugs may seem unimportant to us, but to some people like farmers they make a big difference. Farmers heavily rely on their eating habits. For many crop growers, it is essential for ladybugs to be present. This is because crops are not bug-free; they are literally infested with insects like aphids that love to eat plants. For ladybird's this is a haven because each stay brings a full-course meal. While lady beetles' feast, farmers find an easy way of protecting their crops and making money. In this way, they have a mutual relationship.
For years scientists have known that ladybugs will climb a stalk to capture aphids and aphids will escape by falling off the stalk with the help of gravity. The burning question that still remained was how would the aphid's defense mechanisms work in the absence of gravity? In other words, what would the aphid do to escape the ladybug in space? Finally, in 1999 four ladybugs were sent into space on NASA's space shuttle led by Eileen Collins. Ladybugs and their favorite food, aphids, were sent to zero gravity to study how aphids would get away without the aid of gravity. After completing the mission, it was evident that ladybugs survived and did eat aphids in a microgravity environment. Seems like ladybugs could qualify being astronauts! Lady beetles dazzle people each day with their amazing colors and different varieties of spots. Ladybugs can be found all over the country varying between the Cycloneda species, which is the intriguing spotless ladybug, to the Anatis labiculata, also known as the fifteen-spotted ladybug. People all over the world search far and wide in hopes that they will be able to spot one of the most beautiful insects ever known.