Springtime is lush with local wild activity, so its especially difficult to decide what, exactly, I will write on this week. Already a trove of photos of potential topics clutter my list—garlic mustard, trout lilies, garter snakes, dandelion, stinging nettle—but today I want to revisit a subject touched upon last fall: ladybugs.
As the weather warms, the Asian beetles emerge from hiding. Already, folks are correcting me, saying Asian Lady Beetles are not ladybugs. However, if you recall from last October’s Asian Lady Beetle piece, you’ll remember that those invasive and very annoying species of beetle are, in fact, ladybugs and, to quote that article exactly, “When it comes to Asian beetles, calling them ladybugs is not incorrect, it’s just less specific.”
Now that we’ve got that settled (again), I’d like to introduce you to a native species of ladybug that I stumbled upon while weeding last week: the twelve-spotted ladybug.
This dark pink insect of the Coccinellidae (pronounced “cox-in-elly-die”) family of beetles is one of the more common native ladybugs in the United States. Sadly, like other ladybugs, their numbers are falling as a result of the invasive Asian beetle, which is both a more aggressive predator (and eats the competition’s larvae) and carries a microscopic fungus called microsporidia which can infect and kill native species. Other than the fact that they’re native, what else distinguishes the twelve-spotted ladybug from the much-hated Asian beetle?
First, they’re different in color, shape, and pattern. Color: This indigenous beetle is a hue of dark pink instead of bright red or deep orange we’re used to seeing. And, instead of a perfectly round or domed shape, the twelve-spotted ladybug is oblong like a little pink and black football, and lacks the characteristic white “M” the Asian beetle sports on her thorax. (Author’s Note: While all ladybugs are not female, I’ll be referring to all ladybugs in the feminine for the sake of conversation.) Also, as her name implies, the twelve-spotted ladybug sports twelve spots. Other names for the twelve-spotted ladybug are pink-spotted lady beetle and, simply, spotted lady beetle.
Omit dandelions from your yard, and you’ve just made it that much harder for the twelve-spotted ladybug to thrive.
Entomologists prefer “lady beetle” over “ladybug” because “bug” is a very loose term that can refer to a very broad spectrum of organisms, including microorganisms like bacteria or anything else little and creepy crawly, like worms. However, the terms “ladybeetle”, “ladybird beetle”, and “ladybug” can be used interchangeably and usage is regionally dependent.
As far as mannerisms go, the twelve-spotted ladybug is more ladylike than others. For one, she really likes her flowers! Up to half of the twelve-spotted ladybug’s diet consists of pollen or nectar, which is atypical for the predacious Coccinellidae family. Her flower of choice? Dandelion! This “weed” (it isn’t really) is a favorite of twelve-spotted ladybugs because it is usually the first to bloom in early spring when the insects emerge from winter’s hiding. Omit dandelions from your yard, and you’ve just made it that much harder for the twelve-spotted ladybug to thrive.
Another way this bug is a lady: She doesn’t make a big stink when you bother her. Although all ladybugs emit a noxious yellow fluid from their joints when disturbed, this is a complaint associated more with the Asian beetle than native species because native species are not known to swarm and invade buildings and homes, where their odor lingers for what can seem eons.
Despite dwindling numbers, the twelve-spotted ladybug is still one of the most common native ladybugs in North America. Sadly, three other native ladybugs—the Transverse ladybug, the Two-Spotted ladybug, and the Nine-Spotted ladybug—are so rare that the Minnesota DNR has asked the public’s help in the past in keeping tabs on them. This relates to something called The Lost Ladybug Project, begun in 2000 by Cornell researchers in New York State; the project has since spread across all of North America. More about The Lost Ladybug Project can be read at www.lostladybug.org/participate.php.
There are many ways we can help native ladybug populations thrive, the first being to plant or allow to grow native and naturally occurring flowers like dandelion and milkweed, or to simply let the wild ones grow wild. Herbs like dill, fennel, cilantro, and parsley also make for great ladybug territory. It seems counter-intuitive, but spraying your garden for insects like aphids removes ladybugs’ food sources, thereby removing the ladybugs! Overall, what you want to do is create a ladybug paradise that specifically attracts native Coccinellidae, and, funny, that also means making a bee paradise. Just goes to show that what’s good for bees and butterflies is good for everyone—including ladybugs!
Many thanks to Cannon Beacon for allowing me to publish Local Wild entries on this blog.
-  “Unlike most lady beetles, plant pollen may make up to 50% of the diet.” Ref: ENTFACT-105: Ladybugs, Ric Bessin, Extension Entomologist, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Published: Aug 1993 (Updated: Jan 2007). URL: https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef105. Accessed: 30April2019.
- Other sources used: