Those beautiful and delicate little bugs that you see around this time of year. The typical ladybug is a beetle that has a shell that is predominantly red with black spots. Do you know that I had one of these light on my hand when I was at recess in grammar school, and I took it in the classroom with me where it stayed all afternoon? I let it go when school was out, and I've always been very careful never to harm a ladybug since. They eat aphids, you know? (A fact for you rose lovers.)

There's also another type which can infest your house for a couple of weeks. The Asian ladybug is more prone to be the source of the infestation. It usually looks like a typical ladybug except it will have a burnt-orange shell instead of a red one. They have a chemical in them which makes them smell and taste bad to birds, but the smell is released when the bug is under some form of attack -- or if the bug is crushed. In isolated cases, people who have tried to rid themselves of the insects by crushing large numbers of them have regretted it.

Unless your house is under attack by ladybugs, please do not harm them. I think they may be a higher life form.

The invasion began this morning. I woke up this afternoon to a strange buzzing sound. Naturally, I assumed it had been caused by flies, because my room becomes infested with them every fall and winter. I ignored them.

I proceeded sleepily down the stairs and got my usual bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. To my surprise, when I looked out the window, the air was filled with mysterious flying creatures. "Huh," I thought. "Must be wasps. I'd better stay inside today." This, of course, would not have been a very large change of plans.

Yet, when I wandered into the master bedroom, I saw a small crack below the screen and a steady line of ladybug commandos entering my house. I grabbed the duct tape and sealed the window, but it was too late. I got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked up 70 or so, but the effort was futile. They are everywhere.

I'm still not quite sure what their motives are... Judging from the vast number that are still outside, they may need a base for their world domination scheme. If a lot of nodes about an invasion of Eastern Europe and a mind control plan start appearing under my name, I suggest you invest in some high-quality screens.

Other ladybird facts :

- The name originates from the Middle Ages, when the beetle was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and called the "Beetle of Our Lady"

- Instead of dying when it gets cold, they hiberate during the winter

- However, they don't escape death so easily when it comes to parasitic wasps, as they lay their eggs in the live adult and eat their way out (accounting for 50% of all ladybird deaths). Nice.

- Female ladybirds lay between 50-300 eggs in their lifetime

- The average adult eats over 5000 aphids, and the womenfolk eat 3-10 aphids for every egg she lays (obviously laying eggs is a strenuous activity...)

- A gallon of ladybirds (approx 72,000, although I don't know who counted them...) will set you back around $72 from your local ladybird dealer

NB - Not to be confused with ladyboys, which are a different subject altogether.

What if Mr. Do! and Ms. Pac-Man got together and had a baby? If they did, then the result would probably be something like Ladybug (the 1981 maze game from Universal).

The first time I played this arcade game was at an amusement industry auction in the fall of 2000. This was one of several titles that I did not think were particularly valuable, but still ended up going way out of my price range (the others were Bagman and Operation Wolf). The Ms. Pac-Man/Mr. Do! combination was the first thing to come to mind when I played this game. I later learned that this title predated both games, although it was made by the same manufacturer as Mr. Do!.

In Ladybug you guide a bug through a Pac-Man style maze, eating dots, and avoiding monsters. Collect letters to spell EXTRA for a bonus life (just like in Mr. Do!), and SPECIAL for a extra credit. The maze has rotating doors which are just enough to give the game a slightly different feel than the Pac-Man series.

A proper Ladybug arcade machine will be in a dedicated cabinet (specifically one of the ultra-curvy early Universal ones, Mr. Do!, and many others used this same cabinet). Most games from Universal had no specific sideart, just a painted "Universal" logo, and a couple of colored stripes. This makes it possible to actually convert one Universal title into another one, without any loss in value. The controls are a simple 4-Way joystick mounted in the center of the control panel. Finally, this game uses a standard resolution monitor mounted vertically.

This is not the best game ever made, but it is one of those games you can play over and over again. This would be a good choice for your gameroom (probably at less than half the cost of a Ms. Pac-Man). If you get bored of it, then you can simply swap in the PBCs to another Universal game from the same era, and have yourself a whole new game.

I currently own this game in PCB form, which means I have the circuit board that actually contains the game, but I don't have the machine to put it in.
The life cycle of a ladybug:

Unlike their favorite food source - aphids (whose young are nymphs and look much like the adult only smaller and who reproduce both asexually and sexually), lady bugs undergo metamorphosis. They reproduce sexually, 200m- 500 yellow eggs are laid in clusters in areas of high aphid (or scale or spider mites)infestation. The larvae first hatch from the eggs mostly black and oval shaped. As they grow they take on a fierce appearance that some have likened to tiny alligators except they have 6 legs. I think they look like that thing on the original Star Trek that invaded Sulu's ear, ugh! While they don't have the cute, anthropomorphic appeal of the adult ladybug, the ugly larvae are equally harmless to all but their small insect prey. The larvae are also voracious predators. As they grow and molt (4 molts in all) they take on stripes resembling the wing color of their parents, so they wind up black and yellow, red or orange - depending on type. Little empty ladybug larvae skins will be left strung throughout the plant after each molt.

This spring's little drama of aphid infestation on my Sweet Annie yielded weeks worth of live food for my aquarium fish but as soon as the ladybug larvae emerged aphids were in short supply. These guys can really eat!

The final phase is that of pupation. The larvae pupate briefly (cocoon phase when metamorphosis occurs) in summer and then the adult lady bug emerges. 2 to 3 generations can reproduce in one summer. After the adult ladybug emerges s/he will fly off in search of a new "aphid plant" with a less depleted food supply to start the process all over again.

The adult will hibernate over the winter, sometimes in mass, preferably on a vertical surface. This includes houses (exterior siding or at times interior walls). Expect this phenomena in the fall and prepare for it by sealing cracks with caulk and repairing window screens. Attic vents and chimneys should be covered #20 or smaller screen mesh. If you do get an infestation of sleepy ladybug in your home interior gently vacuum or sweep the little guys up and move them to a more appropriate site. Look for someplace sheltered (rock or wood piles are good; they came indoors for a reason. Don't crush them, it's mean and besides they stink and stain when crushed. They also taste bad, just in case you have any bird like predilections.

Lady bug lady bug
fly away home
your house is on fire
and your children may burn.

old nursery rhyme, anonymous

There are several hundred species of ladybugs (commonly called ladybirds outside the US), which comprise the family Coccinellidae in the order of Coleoptera--that is, beetles. Ladybugs are generally identified by their very VW Beetle like shape and their yellow, red, or orange, spotted elytra. However, colour and patterns vary greatly even among members of the same species, and spotless bugs as well as black bugs with orange or red spots are not uncommon. In Australia, where everything is either upside-down or really weird, they apparently have metallic blue ladybugs that dine on fungi.

Most ladybugs, and this is why we like them, are vicious and voracious carnivores with a predilection for consuming aphids, spider mites, scale bugs, and other widespread pests. Most of them will readily eat plant matter or pollen when hungry but many need a meat diet in order to breed.

In Europe and North America, you're most likely to encounter several of the more widespread species:

Adalia bipunctata, as the name will suggest to the latin-literate among us, is a small member of the family with one red spot on each wing. These are native to the northern hemisphere and very common throughout Europe. These are the fun-sized ones unless you're a blackfly, in which case I suppose that a ladybird of any size is bad news.

Coccinella septempunctata (see the recurring "punctata" theme) is the classic seven-spotted ladybird that illustrators love. This is the most common Eurasian species, which was imported to North America for pest control purposes in the early 1960s and, while not common, is not rare either. C. septempunctata (L.) is itself being displaced by a more vicious intruder both in its native and its adopted range. This one is the ladybug that songs are written about. It is probably the single most sung-to member of the Insecta class.

Coccinella novemnotata has, imagine, nine spots. This bug was widespread in north-eastern North America but, much like the native humans, has been displaced and replaced in its native range first by European, then by Asian invaders.

Hippodamia convergens is the thirteen-spotted beetle native to North America. This one has two triangles of spots at each end of the elytron and a thirteenth where they adjoin the pronotum. The Convergent Lady Beetle, as the name implies, converges and forms clusters. This makes them easy to gather and sell for pest control.

Harmonia axyridis, also known as the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, is an East Asian invader (unless you're in eastern Asia) with excellent credentials for aggressiveness and voracity. This beetle is orange-brown to deep red with orange-brown legs and a W-shaped pattern of four black spots on a white pronotum. It has a basic body pattern of nineteen spots, which might be so faint as to display only a subset or even make the beetle appear plain.

This last bug, which our grandchildren may come to identify as the only "ladybug," was unsuccessfully let loose in the US on several occasions for purposes of pest control, starting in 1916. They did not take until they hitched a ride for themselves and appeared out of nowhere, hundreds of miles from major release sites, in Louisiana in the 1980s. Since then they've taken North America by storm and have made some inroads in Europe. They're an extremely fast-breeding and fast-spreading species that eats anything, including ladybug larvae. While their eating habits make them mostly beneficial and welcome, they're on the wine industry's naughty list since they can make do with grape juice after they polish off the pests and crushing them with the grapes makes the wine taste funny, much like happens with millipedes and olive oil. Oddly enough, the funky smell is due to a methoxypyrazine, a chemical directly related to the making of a good Cabernet.

If you see ladybugs on your house in mid to late autumn, this will be H. axyridis looking for shelter for the winter, preferably in your attractive, light-coloured walls. And, if there are cracks and crevices on the outside of the building there will be even more inside. Before you know it, they'll be buzzing around your light and crawling on your window blinds. That is, until the temperature warms up over 50°F/10°C in spring, at which point they vanish for the summer.

In many cultures, the ladybug is associated with spring, good fortune, good weather, and all sorts of beneficence. Rather odd for one of nature's most fearsome little predators. The "lady" in the name is the Virgin Mary of Christian religions, though the ancient Europeans often used similarly divine names. The Russians and Welsh call them names involving cows. Which leads to the question whether Matt Groening knew about it when he came up with the herds of ladybug-like buggalo roaming Mars in several episodes of Futurama. I would not be surprised.

If you go shopping for ladybugs for your garden, your selection is limited. Ladybugs don't breed well in captivity and clustering species are the only ones that are profitable to catch. Most ladybugs sold in North America are H. convergens that were collected in the wild. H. axyridis is not as popular as it used to be since it's come to be seen as a bit of a pest. If you plan on ordering ladybugs for pest control, keep in mind that, unless you have some super tasty plantlife like grape vines, they tend to vanish along with the aphids after polishing them off.

The ladybug is the official insect of seven of the states that feel the need to have one. This list includes Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Tennessee, New Hampshire (after a tempestuous legislative debate), Ohio, and Pennsylvania. All but New York, which went native with the near-extinct nine-spotted beetle, do not specify the species but use the common name of the whole order.

Ladybugs, though not poisonous, are nasty critters. This is mostly because they react to being handled with reflex bleeding of a smelly, staining, and apparently corrosive substance. I uncovered one report that described 'severe chemical burns' in the oral mucosa of a dog that was stupid enough to eat a bunch of them. The hemolymph of H. axyridis is an irritant and medical literature suggests that the prevalence of allergies to it could be as high as 10%. Mystery allergy sufferers, you have another suspect.

Few ladybugs bite (this seems to be a FAQ), as their mandibles tend to be too small. Unsurprisingly, H. axyridis is an exception to that rule. They do bite spontaneously and humans are on their menu. Regarding this last point, I can offer anecdotal evidence. I recently watched one of the little blighters land on my hand and bite me immediately. It was not content with biting but nibbled on me for over five minutes. It grazed off a millimeter-square patch of epidermis and left enough of a wound to scab over by the next day. It did its damnedest to hang on when I removed it, like some monstrous hybrid of Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar and Very Grumpy Ladybug. Ladybug bites are like a tiny pinch, and while not entirely painless won't make you flinch.

So, yeah, while they're too pretty and dumb to star in a buggy version of The Birds, THEY EAT PEOPLE! We ought to be running screaming, yet we invite these horrible, man-eating beasts into our garden and sing songs to them. Go figure.

La"dy*bug` (?), n. Zool.

Same as Ladybird.


© Webster 1913.

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