A Close Encounter Of The Lady Bug Kind

Spotless Lady Beetle (Cycloneda sanguinea)

Even as I puddled along at twenty miles an hour, the tiny spot of red, shining in the midst of a landscape turned sere by time and frost, compelled my attention.

Assuming I’d come across a last flower of summer, I stopped and walked across the ditch, where I discovered not a flower, but an insect commonly known as a lady bug. Both spotless and shy, he seemed unwilling to pose for a portrait, and scurried into the depths of the plant on which I’d found him.

For ten minutes we played hide-and-seek, until he emerged onto a leaf for a bit of a rest.

Then, he was off again. Why he preferred running to flying I don’t know, but he was both speedy and determined: never pausing again as long as I watched.

At last, turning to face me before one last run for cover, he showed off the markings that identified him as a male (a white cleft above the head and a white face), then disappeared.

Despite years of lady bug watching, collecting, admiring, and enjoying, I never had looked beyond their colorful wing covers. Next time, given better photographic skills or a more cooperative lady beetle, I may achieve a crisper image. But for now, I have a face to put with that distinctive red body, and it’s a face that even a human can love.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

50 thoughts on “A Close Encounter Of The Lady Bug Kind

    1. I was quite surprised that it didn’t fly away, Melissa. I have no insight at all into the lady beetle mind, but it seems it would have flown if it had felt truly threatened. In any event, a shy lady beetle appealed to me, so shy it became.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the images. I think the first is best, photographically speaking, just because I like the abstract nature of it. But I included the others for documentation. I’d certainly never been eye-to-eye with one of these beauties, and thought others might enjoy the close view.

      1. They have become quite a pest around here, so I stopped admiring them years ago. Your sweet post reminded me that they are still charming, even if people will insist on importing them. I liked the first shot the best, too, but also appreciated the documentation.

  1. Linda, your encounters with the large and the tiny are just great. You have a very sharp eye. I think the pics are marvelous and show just about all the elements of this precious and very beneficial bug. I adore lady bugs and they are one insect along with butterflies that I like so much.

    1. When I was little, lady bugs were a favorite, just as they are for you. Now I know that they’re actually beetles, not bugs, but “Lady beetle, lady beetle, fly away home” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

      When I learned that the English call their versions of the insect “ladybirds,” I had one of those “Ah, ha!” moments. Sure enough: “Despite her legal name of “Claudia,” Mrs. Johnson has been known as “Lady Bird” since childhood, when her nursemaid Alice Tittle commented that she was “as purty as a lady bird.” I presume there are plenty of ladybugs at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

      1. I bet there are plenty of ladybugs there. I think it is all organic. I am so glad that place was established by Lady Bird Johnson. The center has rescued many native plants and has influenced the movement toward use of native plants in the home garden and public gardens as well.

  2. Didn’t know there was a spotless variety. These are neat pictures, and happy to see this little guy, looking good. You even got the tiny droplets on its newly waxed and buffed wing covers. We hatched some out, when I was in grade school, and we loved having a garden full of these shiny little characters. It was just a few days, and then they took off for buggier pastures. Spotting this at 20 MPH – – there’s nothing the matter with your eyesight!

    1. I’d never seen a spotless one until this past year. The first ones I saw were on milkweed plants, happily eating aphids. They really do shine, just like they’re fresh from the car wash.

      Your experience with the ladybugs flying away reminded me of a tongue in cheek article I once read about the marketing geniuses who sell bulk ladybugs to gardeners. Even if they’re distributed over time, the insects aren’t going to stay put — making it necessary for the gardener to buy more. Of course, if the first ladybugs eat up all the aphids, the others will leave even faster, since there isn’t anything left on the dinner table.

      You’re right about my eyesight. This coming June, it will be three years since I had my cataracts removed and new lenses put in. I don’t think we’d met at that point; you might enjoy the post I wrote then. I still read it on occasion, just to remind myself of what things were like “before.”

    1. It’s only been this year that I discovered them, Terry. All of them that I’ve seen have been in one county, too. They’re elegant little creatures, for sure; some of them seem to be enameled.

  3. You’ve gone to the top of the class with this one Linda! I didn’t know how to differentiate the gender and next time I go into my archives I’ll have to look closer. Obviously my eyesight is not as sharp as yours.
    Patience is obviously another of your fine qualities.

    1. Here’s a caution about gender identification that I couldn’t have offered two days ago. Just as there are many species with different patterns on their wing covers, the male and female indicators among the species differ, too. Here’s a photo from BugGuide of the female of this species. The difference in the white markings is slight, but obvious, especially the lack of that white center “stripe” on the female’s face.

      My eyesight is pretty good at this point, but thank goodness for macro lenses; they allow us to move even more deeply into these tiny worlds. And, yes: I do tend to be patient. That’s a quality that’s developed in the course of my work. As another varnisher told me years ago, “You can’t rush it, and you’ll always be interrupted by something — usually, the weather.” He was right. Learning to cope with it all certainly does breed patience.

  4. Your last words remind me that my father liked to use the expression “a face that only a mother could love.”

    That first picture’s a good abstraction.

    A movement’s afoot to call ladybugs lady beetles, which is what they are.

    1. When I wrote this, I was thinking about that expression your father used because my mother used it, too; those last words are, in fact, a riff on it.

      Initially I intended to post only the first photo, because I thought it was a nice abstraction. Then, I decided to expand things a little. Since I’d never seen a lady beetle’s face, I assumed some others might not have, either.

      When I first learned that ladybugs are lady beetles, it occurred to me that the same distinction’s been made with those famous Volkswagen cars. I did a little exploring, and found that the cars usually are called Beetles in Europe, and Bugs in North America. Surely there’s a journal of ethnoentomology somewhere just waiting for a paper on the intersection of lady beetles with automotive design and marketing.

  5. I wonder where the black stripes are on the back? Maybe a different species. Do you also have those awful orange ones that stink? The red ones I don’t think do. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for ladybugs. Very tiny — lucky you are a patient soul!

    1. Now you’ve surprised me, Jeanie. I had no idea there are lady beetles with stripes rather than polka dots, but I found photos of them.Some are quite dashing. It made me wonder how many species of ladybugs there are. While different sources give different numbers, it seems there are around 5,000 species in the world: orange and red, yellow and brown, spotted and striped. I hardly can get my mind around it.

      Here’s something else I learned. Those orange ones that are so terrible? They may not be our native lady beetles at all, but the imported Asian lady beetle. They do in fact smell awful if they’re squished, and they can leave a yellow stain. It seems they were both an accidental import and someone’s good idea of a way to control native pests. Here’s another article about them from Michigan.

      I think a lot of people have a soft spot for them. I’ve seen ladybug slippers, birthday cakes, note cards, brooches, tablecloths, potato chip clips — there’s no end to it. Can’t you imagine a ladybug wreath or swag? I can!

      1. I have a friend who sends me ladybug things every year at Christmas. Thanks to Lin I have earrings, beany babies, tree ornaments, salt and pepper shakers (I donated those), pins, postit notes, who knows what all! Actually, a lady bug swag would be cute.

        Those Asian ones are a pain. I try to corner them and take them outside rather than kill them, even though that would be my preference! They smell awful. The pretty red ones, though, are quite all right.

  6. I didn’t know it was possible to tell the gender of a ladybug (or, as we call them in the UK, a ladybird) – is that true of all of them or just this variety? I love ladybirds, but too many of them come indoors than is good for them, here.

    1. According to what I’ve read, Val, the males and females of all (or nearly all) species can be distinguished, but the markings vary. The number or size of their spots have nothing to do with whether one is male or female, but their heads and faces can have small differences which indicate sex. As you might imagine, a microscope is usually the best way to determine for sure which is which.

      I wondered if your “invasions” might be due to a non-native species, as often happens here. I found this BBC piece about the 2016 invasion, with some good video, and some good information about how to deal with them. A few ladybirds in the garden are sweet. A few hundred in the house? Not so much.

      1. Ah, we don’t get that many – though one year we did have a kind of ‘swarm’ of them… No, what I meant was that they decide they want to nest or whatever ladybirds do, in the crevices of our windows and when we open them, out come all these little beetles… they seem to like our house. Next time I see one (don’t suppose it’ll be long) I’ll have a close look at it.

  7. Even as a kid, I knew they didn’t bite, so good or bad for a plant didn’t matter, I never sprayed them or stepped on them. They appear so non-assuming.

    1. They certainly aren’t threatening (unless you’re an aphid, I suppose) and they really don’t do much except wander around looking for their next meal. They’re terribly cute, and when I was a kid, I was told that it’s good luck if one lands on you. I believed it then, and I think I still believe it now — even if the luck involved is just having the chance to see one.

  8. Linda, I never realized that ladybugs with white faces are male! Thank you for educating me today. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a spotless ladybug either. Ours are typically dotted, but like you say, they move FAST! Somehow they manage to slip into crevices and overwinter inside, too. Last year I came upon many a ladybug sunning in a south-facing window; this year, none. Strange. Somebody somewhere would probably attribute that to “climate change” or, if they were feeling particularly nasty, to our president, ha!

    1. Well, at least in this species, the white face is an indicator. Lady beetles come in several colors, various numbers of spots, and different patterns on their faces, so what’s true for one species may not be true for another. I hardly could believe it when I read there are thousands of species: even being a ladybug expert would be quite an accomplishment.

      It’s possible the indoor ladybugs you have are the Asian lady beetle, which has only been in this country for a few decades. Like so many invasive species, it’s thriving. This article about the creature has some hints about why they behave as they do, and how to control them. I especially like the suggestion for little houses that can keep them outdoors. I’d never heard of such a thing, but Amazon’s offering a variety of already-built houses.

      1. Thanks, Linda. I usually just slip a piece of paper beside them, allow them to walk onto it, and release them back outside. Of course, we haven’t had them indoors this year — I wonder why??

        1. Oh — I got the idea that you had a lot of ladybugs: hundreds or more. A few are easy to deal with. Sometimes I’ll find one on a boat, and I deal with it the same way you do. A piece of sandpaper for a carriage, and it’s up to the grass with them.

    1. That video’s amazing, Curt. Somewhere I read that the military are studying them as they develop yet another form of flight, and after watching the video, I can see why. It must be quite a sight when they gather in large groups. There seems to be agreement that the collective noun for them is “loveliness.” A loveliness of ladybirds sounds good to me.

  9. A Spotless Lady Bug — didn’t know there was such a critter, and a gentleman at that! I’m sure being a gentleman Lady Bug must be very confusing, not to mention oxymoronic. I seem to recall a passage in one of the Pogo books about a gentleman Lady Bug and how confusing it was when somebody chanted the rhyme at him. I’m not sure if segars were involved, but there may have been a mouse in a derby hat, to say nothing of a hound dog. . .

    1. I found the Gentleman Lady Bug in a list of occasional Pogo characters, and managed to surface a mention of one story in which he played, but I couldn’t find the cartoon itself, to see what he looked like. No matter; he would have been dapper. I’m sure of it.

      I haven’t seen that many spotless Ladybugs,but every one I’ve seen has been as shiny as an enameled brooch, or red patent leather shoes. They’re really beautiful, and since I’ve found all of them in Brazoria County, that’s where I’ll start looking in spring.

    1. Interesting that the first recorded use of “ladybird” is in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act I, Scene 3). According to the UK Ladybird Survey, the bright red, seven-spotted ladybird (the most common in England) is thought to have inspired the name. Originally it was called “Our Lady’s Bird,” with “Lady” referring to the Virgin Mary. In early paintings, she’s seen wearing a red cloak; the seven spots are symbolic of her traditional seven joys and seven sorrows.

      There are other explanations, including a tradition that the Ladybird showed up to save farmers from an infestation of insects and was believed to have represented divine intervention. In any case, the name has a long and interesting history.

      1. What a fascinating background. Thanks for sharing it. I notice Americans and Canadians often have different names/spelling to us in the U.K. and Australia.

    1. I think the Dutch term must be related to the religious connotations of the English “Ladybird,” which originally was phrased, “Our Lady’s Bird” — a reference to the Virgin Mary and the red cloak she often was shown wearing in paintings. Now that I think about it, “Our Lady’s Bird” as a general name would allow for both male and female.

      In Germany, the word for ladybug is Marienkäfer, or “Mary’s Beetle.” In France, it’s sometimes known as La bête à bon Dieu, which roughly means “God’s animal.” There are lots of interesting connections among the names. I’m glad you added the Dutch.

  10. I don’t necessarily go looking for ladybugs, but am pleased when I come across one. Your photos are breathtaking–macro to the max! Loved that little guy’s face and thanks for the info: Generally, I can’t identify males/females unless something about one or the other is obvious. Really obvious.

    1. Given what it took to figure out that this one was a male, I’d hate to be given even a dozen to sort out. No wonder so many sites said, “Get a microscope. It will be easier.” On the other hand, once I had the genus and species from BugGuide, it wasn’t too hard to figure out the sex from the photos there.

      Until I read about Asian Lady beetles getting into human houses, I had no idea that “ladybug houses” are a recommended way to keep ladybugs comfortable and safe over the winter. You probably know about them already. Silly me wondered if they were available online; of course they are, by the dozens of models. But for DIY sorts like you, I also found these plans. I presume since the ladybugs are so small, the crevices would screen out other insects.

  11. Almost looks like an imaginary creature with that flawless coloring and tattoo-like design on the face.
    Never thought about coloring variations of these little beetles – or their myths other than the children’s rhyme.
    Have to confess…I do buy ladybugs when I see them in those packets – they need liberating! And hopefully a few will feel grateful and stay around the yard.
    (One good thing about this cold winter? Maybe fewer mosquitoes?)

    1. I wouldn’t get your hopes up, vis-a-vis those mosquitoes. When I was down at the refuge last weekend, they were as thick as I’ve ever seen them. I couldn’t get out of the car without a couple dozen getting inside, and they were biters. Strange. They had a longer cold and more ice down there than we did.So much for “a good, hard freeze will wipe out mosquitoes.”

      If only Lady beetles would eat mosquitoes as well as aphids. Combine that with their inherent cuteness, and they’d be insect of the year. I once gave ladybugs as a birthday present and got a great tip from Maas Nursery. The trick is to put out a hundred or so, and keep the rest in dormancy in the refrigerator. When the first batch disappears, then put out more. Of course, you have to be willing to have ladybugs in your refrigerator, but they are dormant — what could go wrong?

  12. He’s wonderful! I knew there were many species, with different spots, but I can’t remember seeing a “Spotless” one – what a concept and name. But the Latin name looks like it’s all about the color, which certainly does stand out. I appreciate that you found the face and told us about it. He DID deserve that. :-)

    1. The glossy red wing covers are fabulous. They do look lacquered, or perhaps enameled. I’ve always been fond of ladybugs generally, but these are a cut above. I’ve never worn red lipstick, but I did discover that MAC has a shade called “LadyBug.” I can’t imagine being in a Macy’s, but if I ever am, I just might unleash my inner ladybug.

  13. I am very fond of these creatures, they certainly are the gardeners friend. They can devour hundreds of aphids a day so I’m always happy to see them. Yours is a beauty, I didn’t know there was a spotless variety. What a face! Wonderful.xxx

    1. The more I use my macro lens, the more magical it seems. I certainly never considered the possibility that a ladybug would have a face, but there it is. Every time I look at it, I laugh!

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