Many of us have noticed of late the number of ladybeetles waking up from their winters sleep and buzzing us like somnambulist Kamikaze Stokker Divebombers. I am sure we all remember the clouds of these critters which seemed to be everywhere this past summer. In Canada, ladybugs wintering in the garage are considered to be an omen of good luck. Hibernating groups have been known to have as many as10,000 individual ladybeetles. They emerge as the weather warms up, and are active until fall. Some species of have been know to migrate several hundred miles by navigating with the winds.
There are over 400 species in North America, approximately 170 species have been brought in to help in the fight against pests. In the 1880s, ladybeetles were imported from Australia to save the orange trees in California from a pest called 'cottony cushion scale'. The Mexican bean beetle, a cousin species of the lady beetle and the black sheep of the family, is a pest to crops. Some of the species have quite interesting names such as Twice-stabbed , Transverse, onvergent, Hieroglyphic, Parenthesis, Southern and Eye Spotted lady beetles, to name but a few.
There has been an upsurge of "home invasions" by the Southern ladybeetle which is also known as the multi-coloured Asian ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis. This species likes to hibernate indoors in large groups and was imported from Japan for pest control over the past 80 years. In the last six years, the mild winters and hot summers have helped them to acclimatize. They prefer the southwest side of buildings and are particularly fond of brightly coloured houses. Once established the insects may return to the same hibernation site year after year. It is generally believed that they leave a scent behind which they and their descendants track. The leading cause of death for hibernating ladybeetles is dehydration. Take heart though, they leave in search of food as soon as they awaken from their winter slumber. They march in straight lines in their search for food and use physical contact, as opposed to sight or smell, to find their prey.
Ladybeetles, ladybugs or ladybirds belong to the family Coccinellidae. Coccinellidae is derived from the Latin word Coccinatus which means "clad in scarlet." In their early stages lady beetles are light yellow or orange, they begin to darken as they reach adulthood. A single ladybug can consume more than 2,000 aphids in its lifetime. There are more than 5,200 species of ladybeetles in the world and some 290,000 different species of beetles, more than any other kind of animal.
Ladybeetles "bleed" as a protection against predators. This "blood" has chemicals which are distasteful or lethal to predators. The ladybeetle's bright colours are a warning to predators of this danger. An old folk remedy recommended that people suffering from a toothache were to collect this "blood", which is really a yellow liquid which they produce when alarmed, and rub it on their afflicted tooth or teeth to lessen the pain.
Ladybeetles can control significant pest problems in gardens, orchards and on farms. To English farmers, a ladybeetle signals a good harvest while in the vineyards of France, a ladybeetle is a sign of good weather. Medieval European tradition held that ladybeetles were sent from heaven to save the crops. They were referred to as Our Lady's beetle. It was later shortened to lady's beetle, then simply ladybeetle. They have also been called God Almighty's Cow. Our Lady refers to the Christian Virgin Mary and superstition holds that to kill one will bring ill luck.
It is considered a blessing to have one land on you as long as you don't brush it away - the redder the beetle the better your luck will be. In the United States it is considered a favourable omen if one lands on your clothing as it augurs that you will acquire another garment of the same type. A ladybeetle landing on your hand is an omen of good weather approaching but a ladybeetle walking on the hand of a Swedish girl is said to be measuring it for wedding gloves
In English traditions, the number of spots on a ladybeetle are an indicator of the number of happy months which are to come. Other traditions dictate that this indicates the number of shillings a bushel of wheat would be worth that season. In the folklore of the Hebrides, ladybeetles with five spots, which originate from that area, are symbolic of Christ's wounds. If a ladybeetle is killed, according to East Anglian tradition, it should be buried and the ground over it stamped on three times. To dream of a ladybug is a sign of easy success in modest endeavours.
Ladybeetles are said to have the power to understand human speech, so when you chant the couplet:
The ladybeetle will do as instructed and take to the air. The direction it chooses indicates the direction from which your future love will come. In reality, it is just escaping the heat from your hand. Another superstition states that single girls will get news of their future marriage by doing the same thing while chanting this rhyme:
Whether we consider the ladybeetle to be a harbinger of future love, good fortune, favourable crops, good weather or just plain annoying, we should always bear in mind the important work they do in controlling pests and parasites and in balancing our ecosystem. If they get to be too much, get out the broom or the hand vaccum and relocate the little darlings to your herb or flower garden. It might just make Our Lady smile.