Home & Garden Garden 9 Surprising Facts About Ladybugs By Angela Nelson Writer Boston University Angela Nelson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor and storyteller who covered a variety of general interest stories on MNN (now part of Treehugger) from 2014-2019. our editorial process Twitter Twitter Angela Nelson Updated December 02, 2020 Treehugger / Julie Bang Share Twitter Pinterest Email Garden Insects Planting Guides Indoor Gardening Urban Farms Ladybugs, or lady beetles, are insects in the beetle family. There are about 5,000 species of these tiny insects, and most of them are quite helpful. Although best known as a red insect with black spots, ladybugs come in a variety of colors, and some have stripes or no markings at all. These little hard-shelled creatures are harmless to humans and helpful to gardeners. From their hidden wings to their talent for warding off predators, discover fascinating facts about the lovable ladybug. 1. Technically, They're Lady Beetles, Not Ladybugs These small insects are more accurately called lady beetles or ladybird beetles. Ladybug is the American name given to the Coccinellidae family of beetles. Bugs have needle-like mouthparts and a mostly liquid diet, while beetles have the ability to chew and enjoy munching on plants and insects. Beetles also have hard wings, while bugs have softer wings or no wings at all. Beetles go through a complete metamorphosis, while bugs look about the same throughout their entire life cycle. 2. They Aren't All Red With Black Spots tcareob72 / Shutterstock Though most people think of ladybugs as red with black spots, not all species of ladybugs look like that. There are about 5,000 species of ladybugs in the world, including 450 in North America. In addition to red, they can also be yellow, orange, brown, pink, or even all black. Their spots, which some ladybugs don't have at all, can look more like stripes. 3. They Consume a Lot of Pests Henrik Larsson / Shutterstock Ladybugs earn their place as a desirable insect based on their preferred diet of plant-damaging insects, including aphids. Ladybugs lay hundreds of eggs in aphid colonies, and as soon as they hatch, the larvae immediately start feeding. An adult ladybug may eat as many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime. These beneficial insects also eat fruit flies, thrips, and mites. Different species of ladybugs have different food preferences. While many prey on garden pests, some, like the Mexican bean beetle and the squash beetle, feed on plants and are unwelcome pests themselves. 4. They Hibernate in Winter Instead of heading south for the winter, ladybugs living in colder climates enter diapause, a type of insect hibernation. When the aphids begin to disappear, ladybugs realize that winter is coming and flock together to reproduce right before entering hibernation. During this period, which can last as long as nine months, they live on their fat reserves, which hold them until spring when insects become plentiful again. 5. Their Spots Serve as a Warning Darkdiamond67 / Shutterstock The spots and bright colors on ladybugs are not for looks alone. They are meant to warn would-be attackers that this beetle tastes terrible. Beyond their warning colors, ladybugs have another line of defense: They emit foul-smelling blood from their leg joints when they’re startled. This yellow liquid is toxic to many ladybug predators such as birds and small mammals. When all else fails, ladybugs are known to play dead, giving them a third defense mechanism in a world of eat or be eaten. They aren’t often preyed upon thanks to all of this protection, but some insect species — assassin bugs, stink bugs, and spiders — eat ladybugs. 6. Their Name Is Legendary Legend has it that the “lady” in lady beetle dates back to the Middle Ages. The story is that farmers' crops were being damaged by swarms of aphids. But after the farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help, the ladybugs arrived, ate all the aphids, and saved the day. The farmers were so grateful that from then on they referred to the insects as “Our Lady’s beetles.” 7. They May Eat Their Own Eggs Christiana Fletcher / Getty Images Female ladybugs lay as many as 1,000 tiny gold-colored eggs during a single season, but not all of the eggs make it to adulthood. While they prefer to lay their eggs on leaves covered with aphids, when prey is in short supply, the ladybugs may eat the eggs and larvae. In fact, ladybugs plan ahead for supply shortages; when food is scarce, ladybugs lay infertile eggs to provide for their offspring. 8. They Have Hidden Wings Much like butterflies, ladybugs go through four stages before they complete their metamorphosis. They begin as tiny eggs that hatch into larvae that resemble tiny spiny alligators. Then they begin the pupal stage, which lasts around two weeks. In their final phase, they become adult ladybugs and their hidden wings appear. Adult ladybugs have a recognizable smooth dome shape, and their forewings are protected by an outer shell, or elytra. Underneath the outer shell is a pair of thin hind wings that unfold at a speed of 0.1 seconds and are significantly larger than the ladybug's body. Once unfolded, ladybug wings move at a rate of 85 beats per second. 9. Ladybugs' Numbers Are Declining Researchers studying a decline in native ladybugs in the United States and Canada theorize that the population reduction may be due to the introduction of non-native species, climate change, land-use changes, disease, or shifts in the availability of prey. In an effort to track ladybug populations, entomologists at Cornell University created the Lost Ladybug Project, a citizen-based effort to spot, photograph, and report on ladybugs across North America.