Nerding Out on Ladybugs:  Who They Are, Why They’re Good & How to Attract Them

February is very much about the color red, red, and more red – it’s EVERYWHERE as Valentine’s Day approaches.  Let’s talk about a nice red bug – there are nasty red bugs out there like Scarlet Lily Beetles – but let’s focus on every child’s favorite – the Ladybug.

Who They Are

Ladybugs are also known as ladybirds and ladybeetles.  To be correct, ladybugs actually are beetles.  Here are a few reasons:

  • the structure of their mandibles (mouth parts) that chew their food
  • their diet
  • the kind of wings they have – National Geographic has an aaa-mazing video on YouTube of a ladybug folding its wings – it’s worth the 1½ minutes to view it
  • and because they go through a full metamorphosis in their life cycle

Ladybugs morph from egg to adult in about 21 days and generally live for 3-9 months.  There are 5000 different species of ladybugs worldwide and 300 different species in North America alone.  They are known as ‘foliage dwellers’ – meaning that they like to live among the leaves in trees, shrubs, flowers, forests, fields, and weed patches.

Not all ladybugs are red with 8 black spots like the ones we know so well.  They can be yellow, white, orange, brown, pink, and all black.  They can have no spots, a few spots, and up to 24 spots.  And instead of spots, some have stripes.  Crazy, hey?

Why They’re Good

Ladybugs are omnivorous – meaning that they eat both plant material and animal material.  For the vast majority of ladybugs, their preferred diet is aphids – that’s why we love them in our gardens so much!  It’s estimated that ladybugs eat 5000 aphids in their lifetime – they eat up to 400 in the first 2 weeks of their life as they develop from larva to adult.  Ladybugs also eat fruit flies, thrips, mites, mealybugs, bollworms, broccoli worms, cabbage moths, and tomato hornworms.  Some types of ladybugs eat pollen & mildew, and they have also been known to be cannibalistic, meaning that they will eat some of their own.

In addition to their ability to curb aphid populations, they play a role in pollination.

Ladybugs have few natural predators because they taste so bad.  They secrete a stinky smelling and terrible tasting yellow fluid from their joints & abdomen called hemolymph when they are threatened.  Do you remember having this stuff on your hands? Yuck!  Hence, birds generally avoid them; but some bugs, like assassin bugs, stink bugs, and some spiders and toads do eat them. 

Ladybugs have 2 other defense systems, their aposematic coloration – meaning their bright colors and spots – warn predators of their bad taste.  And their last line of defense is how they back flop to the ground landing on their backs, exposing their black bellies, and playing dead – this is called thanatosis.  It is really hard to see them on the ground when they do this, their black bellies camouflage right into the color of the soil.

How to Attract Them — 

Let’s talk about how to encourage ladybugs to live in your garden space during the growing season and how to encourage them to hibernate in your garden over the winter. 

But, before we talk about the actual plants that attract ladybugs, let’s talk a little about the use of chemicals. First up — is the need to stop using pesticides, chemical, natural, OR organic.  Most pesticides that advertise that they are safe to use are speaking of safety for the adults, but they kill the babies and other stages of development that are more sensitive.  Having a clean, weed controlled, healthy, well mulched garden goes a looong way to preventing garden pests from taking over your garden.

Now, details for encouraging ladybugs through the winter and the other seasons:

For winter hibernation – Ladybugs hibernate outdoors in:

  • hollow stems
  • under leaves, and
  • amongst garden mulch. 

Leaving organic matter in your garden through the winter encourages them to stay, so don’t cut down your perennials in the fall, and allow them to drop their leaves where they stand. Another thing to do is to keep your gardens well mulched.

While gardens are growing – Ladybugs are attracted to pollen, flowers & herbs.  Having a yard full of foliage and pollen is the best way to persuade them to take up residence.  They love trees and shrubs and are attracted to the pollens of flowers and herbs – take a peek at the chart below which we have divided into their favorite herbs, annuals and perennials.

We love this little bug that plays such a big part in our ecosystem!

Come in or give us a call @ 780-467-3091 or email us via our contact form on our website and we can help you find the plants listed in the chart below in the herb, annual, and perennial departments of our sales greenhouse.


Plants That Attract Ladybugs                 

  Herbs   Annual Flowers   Perennials
  • chives
  • cilantro
  • dill
  • fennel
  • garlic
  • mint
  • parsley

  • alyssum
  • asters
  • black eyed Susan aka rudbeckia
  • calendula
  • cosmos
  • daisies,
  • geraniums scented & unsented
  • marigold
  • ajuga
  • angelica
  • asclepias
  • coreopsis
  • ecchinacea
  • statice
  • yarrow

 Sources: 

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/surprising-facts-about-ladybugs, https://www.thoughtco.com/ways-insects-defend-themselves-4065571, https://www.thoughtco.com/fascinating-facts-about-ladybugs-1968120, www.ladybuglady.com, http://www.arkinspace.com/2010/08/strange-life-cycle-of-ladybug.html, http://everything-ladybug.com/ladybug-facts.html

http://www.lostladybug.org/files/9%20LLP%20All%20About%20LadybugsPDF.pdf

https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-make-a-ladybug-feeder-attract-them-to-your-garden-169681

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/beneficial/attract-ladybugs.htm

http://balconygardenweb.com/26-plants-that-attract-ladybugs/

http://www.hobbyfarms.com/5-tips-for-luring-ladybugs/

“6 Surprising Facts About Ladybugs” by Angela Nelson, Mother Nature Network website.  Accessed online Novemeber, 2017

“Ways Insects Defend Themselves” by Debbie Hadley , ThoughtCo. website.  Accessed online November, 2017

“10 Fascinating Facts About Ladybugs” by Debbie Hadley, ThoughtCo. website.  Accessed online November, 2017