The Mysterious 6,000 Shades of the Ladybug

lady bug


Ladybugs are beautiful, bright, shiny, intriguing, and just plain gorgeous, right? There can’t be too many people on this planet who can disagree with this statement. If they don’t know what a ladybug is, their lives are all the poorer.

But there is another side to these cute ladybird beetles. It chills you to the bone when you hear about this behavior in other species. If you want to find out what that deep, dark secret is that they cover up so well with their pretty facade, read on!

Ladybug, Ladybird Beetles, Lady Beetles, or Another Name?

The brightly colored ladybugis not a bug at all. According to scientists, this little creature is a Coccinellid, which is not a true bug.

This is why scientists call them ladybird beetles or lady beetles – leaving out the bug part. But the scientific name of ladybirds is the Coccinellid, belonging to the Coccinellidae family.


They go by many names, but no matter what you call them, such as ladybugs (North America) or ladybirds (U.K.), they remain an endearing part of growing up and beyond.

There are also more than 6,000 ladybird beetle species, making them an even more fascinating study. Anything that wants to eat them will soon find out that they don’t taste that good, hence their brightly colored warnings.

Alternatively, these lady beetles use their colors for camouflage to protect themselves from predators. Other uses include attracting mates and regulating their body heat. Some have polymorphism superpowers, so they use two color settings to match seasonal changes.

Love them or hate them. Some are valuable to the plant world, while others threaten crops.

Ladybugs Etymology

Etymology is the exciting study of words to learn where they originated. So, how did the term ladybird come about? Let’s find out!

lady bug

Coccineus means scarlet in Latin. This word evolved into Coccinellids when a French zoologist, Pierre André Latreille, created the term to define a category of beetles. In the meantime, the British called the bug species in question a ladybird.

This name originates from the Biblical Virgin Mary or Our Lady. So, the beetle’s name became Our Lady’s bird or the Lady beetle.

Part of this history at the time was because the Virgin Mary was depicted wearing a red cloak in many paintings. To explain the black spots, the people decided that these were symbolic of the seven joys and sorrows that she carried.

The number seven comes from the spots of the ladybird species in Europe, which was the most common. Similarly, the German translation of this name is the Mary beetle or ladybeetle. However, the North Americans decided to call it the ladybug.

The term for many ladybugs in a group is a bloom or a loveliness, which we think is appropriate.

What Does a Ladybug Look Like?

They have tiny oval, dome-shaped bodies. The wings meet in the middle of the dome to form a neat closing system, creating wing covers. The elytra open up to expose the wings, so the ladybug can fly. 


The elytron forms the dome, which doubles as a protective wing cover. This dome shape presents in many different colors and can be anything from yellow, red, orange, or brown.

The base may be a light color with dark spots or a vibrant color with lighter spots. Pigments like carotene are responsible for the lighter shades of yellow and other colors, while melanin produces darker orange, red, or brown tones. 

Besides small black dots, the ladybugs’ appearance can include variations of stripes or checker patterns. Spots vary between species too, and some lady beetles can have two spots, three spots, six spots, or other variations.

The head and body (scutum) coloration of the ladybug also differ. Usually, the female is bigger than the male, but their sizes are between 0,03 and 0,7 inches. 

Coccinellids bodies consist of three sections – the head, thorax, and abdomen. The underside of the ladybug is flat. At the front of the dome, you can see this beetle’s tiny black head, face, eyes, and antennae at the end of the pronotum, which protrudes from the exoskeleton. 

lady bug on leaf

On the sides of the tough exoskeleton are the three pairs of short legs. The legs attach to the thorax and abdomen. The sexual organs are also at the back of the exoskeleton on the underside of the abdomen.

These beetles can emit a bad-smelling toxic substance from their knees to discourage enemies. This toxic substance is harmless to people but is not a favorite of predators. Even birds avoid brightly colored ladybirds because they understand that they don’t taste good.

Even though we have covered two superpowers, neither reveals the dark secret of these flamboyant ladybugs. 

Evolutionary Status of Ladybugs

Ladybird beetles consist of many species, with scientists recording over 6,000 Coccinellids. Experts also date the history of these ladybird beetles as far back as 53 million years since many fossils have been discovered in the soft Oise amber in France.

lady bugs

Rather than belonging to the later Cretaceous period, scientists have learned that these beetles go as far back as the Ypresian phase of the early Eocene age.

Fossils found in the soft amber of this period also contained the Nephus and Rhyzobius genera, which still exist today. Likewise, these genera are the forebears of today’s lady bug.

Additional proof of the evolution of the ladybird comes from other fossils found in Baltic amber, dating to the more recent Eocene stage.

Studies confirm that the extant Rhyzobius and Serangium genera of the Baltosidis Microweiseini and Electrolotis Sticholotidini tribes are also relatives of today’s family Coccinellidae.

Ladybird Species Taxonomic Hierarchy and Phylogeny

Ladybug species follow a short taxonomic hierarchy and longer phylogeny, as you can see below. 

Lady Beetle Taxonomic Hierarchy 

female ladybug
  • Kingdom – Animalia
  • Phylum – Arthropoda
  • Class – Insecta
  • Order – Coleoptera
  • Suborder – Polyphaga
  • Infraorder – Cucujiformia
  • Superfamily – Coccinelloidea
  • Family – Coccinellidae

Ladybug Species Phylogeny

Phylogeny is beetle-speak for the family tree, so it traces the ladybug’s ancestry to a common ancestor, as we hinted at earlier.

The Coccinelloidea Superfamily contains mostly ladybugs, and the remainder are bark beetles. 

where do ladybugs live

The family tree looks like this:


  • Lymexyloidea
  • Tenebrionoidea
  • Cleroidea
  • Chrysomeloidea
  • Curculionoidea
  • Cucujoidea
  • Coccinelloidea
  • Bothrideridae and allies
  • Latridiidae
  • Akalyptoischiidae
  • Alexiidae
  • Corylophidae and allies
  • Endomychidae
  • Coccinellidae


  • Microweiseinae
  • Coccinellinae
  • Monocoryninae
  • Stethorini
  • Coccinellini
  • other tribes

 The Coccinellidae has three subfamilies, including the recently added new Monocoryninae branch.

Where Do Ladybugs Live?

what do ladybugs eat

Ladybugs live in countries worldwide. Though they occupy many different habitats, they prefer temperate climates.

They’re happy if these temperate environments have grasslands, gardens, farmlands, or forests. Lady beetles also live in the suburbs. Large groups will gather almost anywhere it is warm, with a good food supply, and they can breed.

Although native to Europe, where the ladybird beetles with red domes and seven black spots are familiar, they were introduced to North America in the early 20th century.

The reason for transporting them across the pond was so they could munch on their favorite food, the aphids, which are known as pests. Since then, their population distributions have grown, ensuring they have adapted to life in many different habitats.

Are Ladybugs Carnivores?

ladybug colors

Ladybugs enjoy a diverse diet. Some of these beetles are omnivores, and others are carnivores. But the larvae of all of them are carnivores. If prey and other food sources are scarce, ladybugs will eat the eggs of other ladybirds. 

The larvae of other species are also on the menu, as are the pupae. Adult ladybug even eats other ladybugs. That’s right. Their deep dirty dark secret is that they are cannibals. 

Scientists have found the remains of other lady beetles in their stomachs. When these pretty beetles aren’t eating each other, they eat other stuff too.


what color are ladybugs

Many ladybug species and their larvae eat plants and other plant-eating beetles. For example, the Epilachna borealis belongs to the subfamily of ladybugs known as Epilachninae. This ladybug is known as the squash beetle, which eats – you guessed it – squash.

Similarly, the E. varivestis Mulsant is part of the same subfamily. Otherwise known as the Mexican bean beetle, the Epilachna varivestis eats beans.

Authorities control the spread of the Mexican bean beetle by using the Pediobius foveolatus or parasitoid wasps to maintain its numbers since it is an agricultural pest that destroys crops.

ladybird insect

Fungi and Mildew

As hinted at earlier, ladybugs belong to tribes. Some tribes, like the Halyzuni, are part of the Coccinellinae family and eat fungus or mildew. As weird as this sounds (disgusting, actually), this dietary preference is beneficial because they remove harmful mildew from plant leaves.

Spider Mites 

In contrast, the Stethorini tribe of the Scymninae subfamily are carnivorous and enjoy eating mites. This tribal member is an inhabitant of Florida, where it thrives on tetranychid mites.

Apparently, these spider mites are a pest in the region, so the Stethorini tribe of ladybugs is valuable in consuming them and preserving plant health. All gardeners love carnivorous ladybugs because of their pest-eating dietary habits.


Florida’s temperate climate is a massive drawcard for ladybugs. Some specialize in munching other prey, like whiteflies. Two of these specialist ladybug whitefly eaters are native to the area. 

ladybug habitat

Biologists believe that others come from Neotropical regions such as the Caribbean and South America. Another is a Central American immigrant. Since whiteflies prey on crops like sweet potatoes, these ladybugs are an environmental saving grace of this food.

Mealybugs, Soft Scale, and Armored Scale Insects

ladybug insect

You can continue down the list of carnivorous ladybugs and their dietary preferences. For instance, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri is the fancy scientific name of an imported Australian ladybug. The role of this ladybug is to control the mealybugpopulations in the U.S. 

One downside of this species is its larvae look like mealybugs, driving gardeners to poison them. Luckily, this ladybug species has survived and eats bugs with soft scales.

Cottony cushion scale Coccoidea are members of the ladybug family. This one is a pest that looks like tiny ground pearls but loves citrus. Because of its passion for this and other trees and shrubs, it quickly became a destructive pest. 

Unfortunately, this Australian native was introduced to the U.S. to control other pests. Fortunately, control agents like the Rodolia cardinalis (Mulsant) and a parasitoid fly, Cryptochetum iceryae (Williston), were imported to manage their destruction.

Ladybugs feed on thrips, leafhoppers, and other insects with soft bodies.

Similarly, about eight ladybug species enjoy eating other insects that havearmored scales.

what do ladybugs do

Aphids and Adelgids

Ladybugs are essential predators of many other plant-eating insects and also eat aphids. Besides dining on these juicy meals, ladybugs even lay their eggs in aphids. When the eggs hatch and become caterpillars, they immediately have a delicious, nutritious meal to consume. 

Other Food Sources

what is a ladybug

Besides being carnivores or omnivores, ladybirds dine on pollen, honeydew, flower nectar, and water. Additionally, they consume the eliminations of other insects like whiteflies and aphids, which is seemingly quite sugary. 

Extrafloral nectaries are on other plant parts besides flowers that produce sweet secretions. Ladybirds feed on these when other food sources are low.

Plants use these secretions as protection from herbivores, much like other living creatures have their own defenses. Whatever their dietary needs, gardeners love the ladybugs that keep aphid and spider mite populations in check.

Ladybug Facts

how many legs does a ladybug have

Read about some cool ladybug facts, such as their life cycle, ladybug season, lifespan, and their predators.

Life Cycle

Most adult ladybugs hibernate in winter, sticking to surfaces of buildings, trees, and other objects on the south side for warmth until the spring. Breeding occurs in the later part of spring into early summer.

The males insert about three sperm packets into the female, each containing about 14,000 sperm. Because the female can only manage 18,000 sperm, they reserve some for diapause (delayed egg production).

Adult ladybugs lay their eggs (mostly bright yellow) in upright clusters within colonies of scale insects and aphids if possible. They do this so that their larvae will have a steady food income once they’re ready to hatch about four to eight days later, depending on local temperatures.

the ladybug

Alternatively, they lay eggs under leaves to protect them from the weather and predators. Where they lay their eggs depends on what food they eat.

Once the eggs hatch, the larvae emerge and begin eating voraciously for about three weeks. They even eat the other eggs in their cluster.

When ready, they shed their skin to transition into a pupa. As they do so, they grow a hunch, and their legs stick to their bodies with a gluey substance. This pupal stage can last between one week and ten days until they emerge as adults.

When Is Ladybug Season?

what do lady bugs eat

The mating season starts in late spring and early summer or in the wet season in tropical areas. So, you can expect many ladybugs in the late spring and summer as their lifecycle takes between 32 and 49 days.

Ladybug Lifespan

Most species of adult ladybugs have a lifespan of just one year.

Ladybug Predators

grey ladybug

Ladybug predators are dragonflies, spiders, birds, other beetles, frogs, and wasps. The Tachinid fly and Braconid wasp also eat their larvae. Parasites and pathogens also prey on these beetles. Ladybugs are also known to cannibalize their own species.

Ecology and Behavior

These beetles eat herbivores that prey on crops, making them excellent control agents in many situations.

Ladybugs use toxins in their knee joints to discourage predation. These toxins contain up to 50 different alkaloids across species, including polyamines and polyazamacrolides. When threatened, they release a pale yellow smelly substance (pyrazines) to defend themselves.

what does ladybugs eat

Another defense mechanism is known as reflex bleeding. They excrete bloody droplets from their knee joints. This substance is a bit of their body fluid which is bitter and repels threats. Their bright colors also show that they are toxic.

These beetles tend to stay indoors during winter for shelter. Otherwise, they remain on the south side of surfaces for warmth. Typically, they gather in large numbers, so many people see them as pests. As the weather warms, they emerge from hibernation and gather around windows.

Ladybugs Family Life

Ladybugs don’t have much of a family life as we know it. They are not monogamous and must mate to reproduce. Neither parent cares for the young after they hatch. Their young are ready to go at it alone as soon as they hatch (unless something eats them, including their parents, which is always possible).

is a ladybug a beetle

They do display social behavior by sticking together in massive groups in winter. They can pack into clusters that add up to several layers of bodies.

Scientists think this aggregation or clumping behavior improves warmth and survival. But some species overwinter in small groups or in isolation. Beyond these behaviors, this seems to be the extent of their family life.

Relations With Humans

Ladybug relationships with people cover many aspects. These aspects include biological control, infestations, dealing with invasive species, and discussing their role in culture.

do lady bugs fly

Biological Control

People have long since realized the benefits of using ladybirds to control other invasive species. As mentioned earlier, some ladybugs, like an Australian cardinal species, are good at controlling pests like the European corn borer and others. 

Even the larvae of some ladybirds are valuable because they eat the cottony cushion scale pest, which destroys citrus and other plants. As specialist control agents or generalists, ladybirds eat aphids and other insects, saving crops.

ladybug food


Infestations or swarms of ladybugs do occur, especially in the fall. At this time, they start moving into homes after leaving their feeding sites in nature.

When they do this, they are also in search of winter habitat. Ladybugs swarm when the temperatures rise after a cool period. Ladybug swarms also occur following increases in aphid populations.

Invasive Species

what ladybug eat

Evidence of one invasive species is the Asian lady beetle, also known as the Harlequin beetle (Where’s The Joker at?). Authorities introduced this beetle to the U.S. and South Africa. Part of the invasion is attributed to the biological control of other insects.

Still, this species has also invaded these countries through natural interactions. It has become a pest, destroying many beneficial local insect species, and they damage crops. There are several occasions where introduced species have destroyed native coccinellids.

Role In Culture

Ladybugs have played popular cultural roles, such as being in stories and children’s nursery rhymes. One of these nursery rhymes goes like this:

ladybugs on leaves

“Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home

Your house is on fire, and your children are gone

All except one, and that’s Little Anne

For she has crept under the warming pan.”

Other cultural evidence of ladybugs is present in the U.K., with the red elytra of the dome being linked with Bishop Barnaby burning. Alternatively, the name’s etymology is connected with St. Barnabas’s feast. This feast takes place in June, coinciding with the time that ladybugs come out in summer.

Other ladybug associations are the Mary, German, and Polish nursery rhymes about ladybugs and symbols for book publishers. Likewise, most European countries have some relation with these bugs in their cultures, either about children or gods.

Ultimately, as small and insignificant as it may appear, if a ladybug lands on you, legend says it will bring you luck.


What Animals Eat Ladybugs?

Birds eat ladybugs, and so do ladybugs eat other species in their own families. Spiders, dragonflies, wasps, and frogs also prey on ladybugs.

What Is the Population of Ladybugs?

Scientists do not have ladybug population figures but are aware that their populations are dwindling fast and urge biologists worldwide to take note of their numbers.

Are Ladybugs Endangered?

Ladybugs are endangered because their habitats are dwindling due to human intervention, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

Why Are Ladybugs Considered Good Luck?

Farmers in the old days knew that ladybugs controlled pests. Praying to the Virgin Mary to protect their crops often resulted in sightings of these bugs shortly after. Regular enough occurrences led to farmers calling them “our lady’s birds.”

The French say your health will improve when a ladybug lands on you. Belgians believe a ladybug landing on a woman’s hand means imminent marriage.

King Robert II of France (972–1031) sentenced and saved a man from death because the ladybug repeatedly landed on the prisoner’s neck. This behavior distracted the executioner. King Robert halted the execution, and the prisoner proved his innocence.

The King noted the ladybug’s behavior as divine intervention, calling it the animal of Good God or bête a Bon Dieu. It is no coincidence that the French name for ladybug is Coccinelle.


Now that you know more about the 6,000 shades of the mysterious ladybug and that it is a cannibal, you may show a new appreciation for this delightful beetle.

Respect for nature is something that grows with knowledge. Besides, we wish a ladybug with many spots lands on you soon.

Janet F. Murray
My connection with animals has been close since my early years. Our family had two dogs, a cat, bunnies, and chickens. Livestock like horses and cows also surrounded our home. My siblings and I kept pets like hamsters, rats, and mice. My brothers saved wild animals at times. Now I have a beautiful rescue cat I lovingly call Bubushu. My favorite writing topics include my first love, animals, and Lyme disease. Besides a business degree and being a content curator for almost ten years, I have also written my memoir, My Sub-Lyme life. This work details my journey with tick bite infections similar to Lyme disease, which left me severely disabled. The vectors for this disease all have close relationships with animals. They include fleas and ticks, so it is little surprise that my passion for animals exposed me to these infections. My wish is that my memoir helps others overcome their challenges. I trust that my content will draw attention to the fact that we are here to protect animal rights and should stop exploiting these sentient creatures with which we share this planet.

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