All About Ladybirds
Kingdom Animalia (animals)
Family Coccinellidae Ladybugs (also called lady birds and lady beetles) are small, oval-shaped winged insects. These shiny insects are usually red with black spots or black with red spots on the wing covers. The number of spots identifies the type of ladybug. Most ladybugs are less than 1/4 inch (4-8 mm) long. As ladybugs age, the color of the spots fade. Birds are the major predator of the ladybug. Ladybugs will play dead when threatened.
These tiny predators are usually very welcome in gardens because ladybug larvae and adults eat aphids, mealybugs, and mites (which are garden pests). Ladybug larvae can eat about 25 aphids a day; adults can eat over 50. There are about 5,000 different species of ladybugs throughout the world. A common species is the two-spotted ladybug; it is orange red with one black spot on each wing cover.
Ladybugs are winged insects (a type of beetle). When they are not flying, the flight wings are covered and protected by a pair of modified wings (called elytra). When flying, the elytras open up, allowing the wings to move. The area above the elytra is called the pronotum (it is part of the thorax). The pronotum frequently has grayish spots on it. The head of the ladybug is very tiny (and frequently confused with the pronotum). Females are larger than males.
Like all insects, ladybugs have:
- 6 jointed legs (arranged as 3 pairs)
- one pair of antennae
- an exoskeleton made of chitin (a type of strong protein similar to the one that forms our hair and fingernails)
- a three-part body consisting of the:
- head (which has the mouthparts, compound eye, and antennae)
- thorax (the middle section which is where the 3 pairs of legs and the pairs of wings attach)
- abdomen (which holds the excretory and reproductive organs and most of the digestive system)
The labybug, like all beetles, undergoes a complete metamorphosis during its life. The life stages of the ladybug are: egg --> larva --> pupa --> adult.
Female ladybugs lay tiny eggs, usually laid in a small mass (fertilization is internal). The larvae that hatches from the egg is small and long and has 6 legs. As it rapidly grows, the larva molts (sheds its skin) several times. After reaching full size, the larvae attaches itself to a plant leaf or stem (by its "tail"). The larval skin then splits down the back, exposing the pupa. The pupa is about the size of the adult but is all wrapped up, protecting the ladybug while the it undergoes metamorphosis into its adult stage. This last stage in the metamorphosis takes a few days.
Ladybugs live in a variety of habitats, including forests, fields, grasslands, gardens, and even in people's houses.
LADYBUGS ON THE SPACE SHUTTLE
Four ladybugs were sent into space in 1999 on NASA's space shuttle led by Eileen Collins. Ladybugs and their main food, aphids, were sent to a zero-gravity environment to study how to aphids could get away from the ladybugs without being able to jump using gravity.
According to the STS-93 Pilot Jeffrey S. Ashby, "One of the experiments that I do understand well, and is also very interesting, is an experiment that involves aphids and ladybugs. We are taking a small container with some leaves and aphids, and the ladybugs that are their prime predator. I'm told that the ladybugs on Earth will climb up a stalk to capture the aphids, and the aphids will use gravity to assist them to fall off of the leaf to escape from the ladybug. The question is, how will these defense mechanisms work in the absence of gravity, and what will happen to the relationship between predator and prey? One of the things that extra time has allowed us to do is to come up with names for the four ladybugs that we have. I think they have been very appropriately named after The Beatles: John, Paul, Ringo, and George. We're taking these ladybugs up and we're going to release them and see what they do."
Results of the Experiment: Upon completion of the mission, it was determined that the ladybugs survived and did eat the aphids while in a microgravity environment. Ladubugs do very well in space!