Ladybug’s Picnic

Clusters of ladybugs
Clusters of ladybugs

Re-inspired by some questions from a couple from LA at the Visitor’s Center a few weeks ago, I decided I really needed to know more about lady bugs.

Turns out, ladybugs huddle together during the winter. This supposedly accomplishes three things. 1 – they stay warmer, 2- it’s a great time to meet other ladybugs and get it on, and 3- ladybugs are supposed to release some foul scent that deters predators, especially when they’re all crowded together. Whatever their reasons, seeing these masses of ladybugs is a pretty amazing sight.

Tom and I spent a few hours searching around for ladybugs, and boy did we find some! Because of the fine weather we’ve been having lately, the ladybugs seems to be pretty active during the afternoon, crawling around, taking flight, and engaging in wild ladybug sex. However, in the mornings and evenings, when it gets cooler, some of them retreat below the pine duff, while others stay out on their rock tips but huddle together with their legs all tucked in. I’d say they look like they are trying to stay warm but some of the ladybugs on the periphery of the cluster seem to be hanging out by themselves in perfect contentment, with a little space between them and their comrades, so maybe they’re just sleeping. I didn’t notice any foul odor, either, even though I bent down and sniffed. Maybe it just smells bad to other species.

More ladybug clusters
Can you see all the reddish clusters of ladybugs? It was like this for yards.
When you look up ladybugs, the first thing you find on Google is how they are great pest control because they eat aphids. Gardeners collect overwintering masses of ladybugs, and bring them to their gardens as an insecticide alternative. Unfortunately, according to an Insect book that Tom found at the Conservancy bookstore, these gardens are so far from their natural environment, that when they find themselves there, ladybugs often become preoccupied with getting home, rather than eating aphids. Still, there seems to be a small industry in distributing ladybugs.

On the other side of the coin, a ladybug species relocated from Asia is used to overwintering on steep light-colored cliffs. When they find themselves in the mid-west, the closest thing they can find to an overwintering spot is often the tall sides of light-colored houses. When hundreds of thousands of these cute round bugs end up in your house, they become suddenly unwelcome, and there are also many articles on the internet about exactly how to use a shop-vac to suck them up and take them back outside. Unfortunately for the homeowners, ladybugs use a chemical pheromone as a signal to attract other ladybugs to an overwintering site, so once they’ve settled on a spot, the signal has been planted and ladybugs from a half-mile radius are now going to be attracted to your house, year after year, making ladybugs hard to get rid of.

That also explains why once you find a cluster of these guys, you can keep going back year after year to see how they are doing. Hoorah! Although, at one location, there were so many ladybugs, that I’ve decided that I need to avoid the place because even though I was trying to be careful about where I put my feet, I’m convinced that I inadvertently squashed hundreds of these little guys.

I still have more questions about them. For example,ladybugs migrate. Why do they choose to overwinter rather than just traveling down the mountain to someplace warmer?

And for any of you who can’t quite remember how the ladybug picnic song goes…