Ladybird, ladybird fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All but one and her name is Ann
And she hid under the frying pan.
I certainly do not know what that nursery rhyme is all about, but I do know once a ladybird crosses the Atlantic to the United States, it is called a ladybug.
Last spring, my sister brought me a ladybird house from England. It is a wooden structure like a birdhouse, with little round holes in rows up the sides and front. And accompanying it was a packet of some brown powder labeled Ladybird Food Attractant, which is to be mixed with water and smeared on the house around the entrance holes.
I did not have a chance to test its efficacy last summer because I put the food package in such a safe place, it disappeared, but the house was attractive in the herb garden. While dragging out Christmas decorations, I found the missing package, and will give it a try in the spring.
Ladybug beetles belong to the coccinellidae family (translated as little red sphere) and are easily recognized by their bright colors and spotted bodies. They sport different colors, shiny red, orange or yellow with black dots, or sometimes black with red or yellow markings, and generally are about a quarter of an inch long.
They are common on plants during the summer, and often winter in large groups under fallen leaves or bark.
The hundreds of varieties are divided into a few main classes, including the two-spotted, nine-spotted, seven-spotted, three-banded, convergent, ashy gray and also something seriously known as the "Spotless Nine-spotted ladybug." That information comes from the National Audubon Field Guide of Insects, and its authors are not known for joking.
The anatomy of the ladybug is simple. The colored wing covers (elytra) protect the wings, which are transparent and fragile, and the pronotrum is found just behind the head, which it hides and serves to protect.
The ladybug has six jointed legs, and special organs on the feet that aid smelling. The ladybug uses its antennae to touch and taste.
Adults lay up to 300 eggs in the spring, which hatch in a few days. The newly hatched larvae feed on aphids for up to three weeks, and then they enter the pupa stage. The adult emerges from the pupa about a week later, and this rapid development means as many as six generations may be produced in a year.
These insects are a gardener's friends because they consume large quantities of aphids. They can produce a foul-smelling substance, which helps their survival, deterring birds and other predators even though they are seen easily.
In 1999, four ladybugs and a supply of aphids were sent into space on a NASA space shuttle to study the effect of gravity on predator/prey relationships; the aphids use gravity to drop from leaves to escape ladybugs.
The ladybugs were appropriately named Ringo, George, John and Paul, and all four survived.
The account I read of this experiment did not count surviving aphids, and I am not sure how the whole thing benefited humanity. But it must have given the astronauts something to watch.
The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle was purposely introduced into this country in the late 1970s from eastern Asia as a biological control, and they often are mistaken for our native species. The immigrant bugs have become a nuisance to homeowners because they like to enter cracks and crevices and invade homes in the fall, looking for comfortable winter quarters. They also are known to bite.
And finally, a valuable piece of trivia for you: A gallon jar will hold up to 80,000 ladybugs.