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Good vs. Bad Ladybugs in Your Garden and How to Tell the Difference

Updated on July 3, 2017
This nice ladybug is simply going about her job keeping your plants from the devastating effects of aphids.
This nice ladybug is simply going about her job keeping your plants from the devastating effects of aphids. | Source
A beautiful ladybug nestled inside a flower.
A beautiful ladybug nestled inside a flower. | Source

Ladybugs Are Always Hungry!

All ladybugs have gluttonous, insatiable appetites for aphids and other insects, and that's a good thing. Some of them, however, can be more of a nuisance than a benefit.

The "good" ladybugs are the ones that stay in your garden devouring all the insects that invade your plants, seeking shelter outdoors when the weather is cold; the "bad" ladybugs have the same voracious appetite for aphids and other destructive bugs, but, unfortunately, they like to come indoors when it gets cold. When they do come inside, they emit a terrible odor and leave large yellow stains around your house before they die.

The really "bright" ladybugs are the ones that are the most toxic to some animals. Fortunately (especially for your beloved pets), their bright color and the fact that they emit an extremely foul odor keeps most predators away.

This ladybug is only eating the insects that damage your plants in the garden.  Ladybugs do no damage, but they love the "all-you-can-eat buffet" that sap-sucking aphids and other insects provide for them.
This ladybug is only eating the insects that damage your plants in the garden. Ladybugs do no damage, but they love the "all-you-can-eat buffet" that sap-sucking aphids and other insects provide for them. | Source

The Good...

Superstitions surround just about everything on the planet, and the ladybug is no exception. Where and how a superstition begins is always open for a debate, but in the case of the ladybug, more than likely the thought that if you harmed a ladybug you would have bad luck was introduced by either a full-time farmer or a flower gardener, both of whom would have good reason to keep young boys from killing the one thing that was allowing them to have a successful crop.

That superstition, however, was developed in other directions (but always pointed at good fortune), and women in the Victorian era actually believed they would receive something new if a ladybug were to land on their bodies. If a ladybug landed on their hand, they thought they might receive a new pair of gloves; and if it landed on their head, a new hat might be in the near future. In more modern times, superstitious people believe their wishes will come true should a ladybug decide to land on them anywhere.

So, even though the common ladybug is native to America, there are people around the world who believe that it is a symbol of good luck. And, if you are a farmer with hundreds of acres of crop or simply someone who loves to raise a beautiful flower garden, it truly could be, because the ladybug lives to devour aphids, whiteflies and other bugs that wreak havok on your plants.

Note: In regard to aphids, they may look harmless, but those tiny sap-suckers will suck the life right out of your plants, so let them be lunch for your ladybugs.

The Four Stages of the Life Cycle Start Here

Ladybugs lay their eggs (a lot of them) on the underside of leaves, so when you see these, don't get rid of them, they are tiny nuggets of gold for your garden.  The egg stage lasts for about a week.
Ladybugs lay their eggs (a lot of them) on the underside of leaves, so when you see these, don't get rid of them, they are tiny nuggets of gold for your garden. The egg stage lasts for about a week.

Don't Be Alarmed When You See This Guy!

Ladybug in the larvae stage...it may have a strange, alligator-like appearance, but it is actually going to turn into a cute little ladybug.  The larvae stage lasts for about three weeks.
Ladybug in the larvae stage...it may have a strange, alligator-like appearance, but it is actually going to turn into a cute little ladybug. The larvae stage lasts for about three weeks. | Source

Even the Pupa Stage Can Look a Bit Alarming

Ladybug in the pupa stage, which lasts for only about a week.
Ladybug in the pupa stage, which lasts for only about a week.

But Eventually, the Ladybug Will Look Something Like This

An orange ladybug in the adult stage, which will last for about 12 weeks.
An orange ladybug in the adult stage, which will last for about 12 weeks.

The Bad...

The Asian Lady Beetle is an exception to some of the things you've read so far about the benefits of having ladybugs in your garden. This cute little creature can be very aggresive and may even bite if they make contact with your skin, so they probably won't be your ladybug of choice for protecting your plants.

The first Asian Lady Beetles were found in the United States in about 1988, so they are relatively new to America. They are, however, native to Asia and hang out in trees and fields feeding on aphids and scale insects. In Japan, they are often found in soybean fields, but in the United States, they inhabit crops like roses, soybeans, alfalfa, tobacco and corn crops. The Asian Lady Beetle, like other ladybugs, can devour hundreds of aphids a day (and thousands in its lifetime) so, while they can be beneficial to your plants, you still have to remember that they might bite, so you need to simply leave them alone outside and let them do their work. Let's discuss how to identify them, because Asian Lady Beetles like to come indoors and you won't want them there.

Description of an Asian Lady Beetle

There are some ways to distinguish the "bad" from the "good" ladybugs. The Asian Lady Beetle looks a lot like the good ladybug, but the main difference is that they have an "M" or "W" design right behind their head in an area that is a whitish color and they can come in a variety of colors, as you can see from the photographs with this article. Most of the spots on the Asian Lady Beetle are dark and black, whereas others have lighter spots, with some having no spots at all.

In the life cycle of a ladybug, all of the stages are the same for the Asian Lady Beetle as for the common ladybug, so the only way you would probably be able to distinguish one from the other is in the adult stage when the marking becomes visible behind the head.

Asian Lady Beetles don't like cold weather and have been known to crawl into any cracks of a home they can find, eventually making their way inside looking for warmth. They will fly around inside your house and leave disgusting, smelly yellow fluid that will stain your furniture, walls, ceilings and any other surfaces on which they might land.

If you have several Asian Lady Beetles that have made their way into your home, you might even suffer an allergic reaction to them. Problems such as hay fever, hives, asthma, coughing or even pink eye have been known to occur, not only from touching the beetles, but by simply being around a large infestation of them.

Pest proof your home...seal any and all cracks through which they might enter. If, despite your best efforts to keep them out, they still are in your home, simply vacuum them up or use a sticky tape to get rid of them. Squashing them will only cause more stains and more odor.

Ohio State University has a detailed website about the Asian Lady Beetles that will answer just about any questions you have about them. To access it, click here.

This is an Asian lady beetle - and they are the ones that like to come inside your home and spend their winters.
This is an Asian lady beetle - and they are the ones that like to come inside your home and spend their winters.

The Bright...

A study that was published in Scientific Reports journal suggests that the brighter a ladybug is, the more toxic it is to some animals. The same report also revealed that the more conspicuous the beetle is, the less likely it is to be attacked by predators. Their bright colors apparently serve as a type of warning to potential predators that the beetles are not afraid to use their extremely foul-smelling, poisonous chemicals for self defense purposes. Apparently, the brighter the ladybug, the more disgusting it tastes.

The study was the first to show how the color and/or conspicuousness of the ladybug reveals their level of toxicity, and determines whether or not they are likely to be attacked by predators.

They might as well be wearing a sign that says: "Eat me and I'll make you vomit!"

But Never, Ever Ugly!

Although ladybugs in the pupa stage have a bit of an "alien" look to them, try to remember that eventually they are going to turn into a gorgeous, aphid-munching machine. That's when they will become truly appreciated as natural (and really cute) pest control solutions.

So, they are never, ever ugly!


Have you ever released ladybugs into your garden to control the pests?

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