Do you remember this nursery rhyme?
“Ladybug ladybug fly away home.
Your house is on fire
Your children all gone
All except one and that’s little Ann
For she crept under the frying pan.“
I never understood that poem until I researched its religious significance. However, like most of you, one question stayed with me. Where is home?
If you garden in Charleston, chances are you already know the answer. Home is wherever aphids abound. Adult ladybugs have a very specific diet. They eat only aphids and scale.
Ladybugs are a family of beetles that include over 5000 species. In the Charleston area, there are hundreds of varieties in colors of yellow, orange, red, brown, white, black and gray. Within each species group there are also variations in the number of spots along the back wings.
Despite their vast numbers, ladybugs are rarely if ever pests and many gardeners welcome them with open arms. Open any gardening supply magazine and in the back section you will see ads for ordering ladybug eggs. They are considered beneficial insects because of their penchant for eating aphids and scale.
Unless you farm the eggs July and August are the months when you will find the most ladybugs around your garden. Look for them on plants that draw aphids like roses, citrus plants and native grasses.
The more organic your methods, the better your chances of welcoming ladybugs to your yard. Most gardeners will recognize the adults but it helps to know what the larva and pupa look like. Otherwise you will risk removing them before they can complete their in-star to adulthood. In effect, you’ll be throwing thebaby out with the bath water.
Ladybugs begin mating early spring and lay their eggs on aphid infested plants. The eggs hatch within 7 days and complete their lifecycle within 21 days. During this stage, the immature ladybugs actually look like microscopic scorpions. Their black bodies are long and skinny with white spots. From the moment they hatch, they begin to eat their way to adulthood, first consuming the egg casing (and sometimes other hatchlings) and then immediately seeking any aphids they can swallow. In this stage, they will consume more aphid aggs and nymphs than their adult counterparts, so by leaving them on the plants you will be aiding the irradication of all lifecycles of aphids.
Interestingly, although some birds will eat ladybugs, their red color and unique ability to secret blood from their legs when threatened, keeps most predators at bay. Their most dangerous predator is the gardener who unsuspectingly considers them pests when in fact they are the good guys.
For more information and fun facts about ladybugs, visit www.ladybuglady.com