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

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

A beautiful ladybug nestled inside a flower.

A beautiful ladybug nestled inside a flower.

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 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.

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.

ladybugs-they-can-keep-your-flowers-and-plants-pest-free

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 havoc 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.

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 by sealing 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.

The Bad Guy

This is a photograph of an Asian ladybug.  This is considered "the bad beetle," mostly because it likes to spend its winters indoors.  This photograph was taken by an old friend of ours, Larry Jernigan of Heber Springs, Arkansas.

This is a photograph of an Asian ladybug. This is considered "the bad beetle," mostly because it likes to spend its winters indoors. This photograph was taken by an old friend of ours, Larry Jernigan of Heber Springs, Arkansas.

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!

I don't know what this ladybug found on this prickly pear cactus in our front yard.

I don't know what this ladybug found on this prickly pear cactus in our front yard.

Questions & Answers

Question: When is the best time to release lady bugs to your garden if you buy them?

Answer: If you were referring to the time of day, they should be released in the early evening hours. If you release them when the sun is out they will fly away immediately.

© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

Comments

Braylyn Campbell on June 25, 2020:

I love it

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on May 27, 2020:

I am so happy you found the information useful. Keep reading!

isab on May 22, 2020:

Hi I am 11 I love lady bugs I keep them as pets and have been learning a lot about them and found this and I learned more things about them things I did not now so thankyou.

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on April 30, 2020:

There are many that fit that description so I would Google "black caterpillar with orange spots" and look at the images to see which one you have. Some are bad and some are good so I agree with you that you need to know what it is before you unleash it on your plants. Thanks so much for reading.

Catherinesmith34@tiscali.co.uk on April 30, 2020:

I have just found a tiny bug looks like catapillar but is mainly black with orange spots, dont want to release till i know it wont spoil my plants

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on April 13, 2020:

Thank you; sorry to hear about the destruction of your plants!

Harry Chiangrai Thailand on April 12, 2020:

There are many groups taken the place on my longbean plants and distroying all the fruits and trees. They are very small size and not like beautiful ladybugs.

Any how wish you happy easter 2020.

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on September 17, 2019:

Thanks for reading!

Xyz on September 15, 2019:

Good

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on June 09, 2019:

And YOU are nice to read my article! Thanks!

Caela on June 08, 2019:

You are nice

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on August 04, 2018:

Yes, of course. Send it to thinknwriter@gmail.com

Becca on August 03, 2018:

I have a video of a bug that I think is an Asian ladybug beetle giving itself a bath? I wondered if I could email it to you??

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on May 30, 2018:

I have done some preliminary research and I think you may be looking at Cowpea Curculio beetles. Check out the information on the internet about these and let me know if you think they are the problem. Thanks so much for reading my stuff and I hope I am able to be of assistance to you.

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on May 30, 2018:

Would it be possible for you to send me a picture to my e-mail address? Without seeing the bugs to know exactly what they are, I would be afraid to give you bad information. If you can, send me a photo to thinknwriter@gmail.com - Thanks!

Monthailand on May 30, 2018:

Hi I'm a new gardener living in Thailand. I've found bugs that I've never seen before. From my searching they look like steel blue ladybird but I'm not sure what they are. I'm trying to search on Thai website but nothing pop up about that bugs. The bugs are all over my bean plants and starting to go on my green long egg plants. What should I do?

Mike and Dorothy McKenney (author) from United States on November 06, 2017:

Thank you so much!!

And Drewson from United States on November 06, 2017:

Very nice article.