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"Ladybug, ladybug fly away home," is one line of a popular chant many of us sung as children. However, upon growing up-and becoming gardeners, farmers, or just plain insect enthusiasts — we no longer wish these insects would fly away! Instead we want them to stay awhile and eat all those pesky aphids!
Like butterflies, ladybugs go through complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, and adult), and they look very different in each stage. Many people are surprised to find out that those tiny black alligator looking insects are actually immature ladybugs. Those same people can also mistake a ladybug pupa for a plant-sucking pest insect! If you want your garden to be a safe haven for ladybugs follow these tips.
Pesticides kill ladybugs along with all the other beneficial insects in your garden. Instead, try using natural pest management techniques including mechanical removal (for aphids you can spray plants down with water, or remove by hand) or natural pesticides.
Ladybugs eat aphids and other soft bodied arthropods like spider mites (another common garden pest) so they are often referred to as a gardener’s best friend. However, ladybugs won’t come to your garden if there is no food, so don’t kill all your pests! Try creating a companion planting, an area vegetated with plants that attract beneficial bugs and where you won’t mind a few pest insects for them to munch on. Some plants to try include, yarrow, fennel, cilantro, dill, tansy, cosmos, and marigolds.
Although buying and releasing ladybugs is a common practice, it has been met with mixed reviews. The problem is that after you release the ladybugs they don’t always want to stay in your garden. Instead you see them flying away in droves. If you do plan to purchase and release ladybugs make sure you follow these instructions for release, it will greatly improve the chances of ladybugs staying in your garden.
Ladybugs inside houses are not a common sight here in California, though the same can not be said for other parts of the country. On the East Coast many homes are invaded by ladybugs in the winter months. The multicolored Asian ladybug, Harmonia axyridis, often overwinters indoors. They are an introduced species of ladybug from Japan, and prefer warmer temperatures in the winter, so they move indoors.
Be sure to seal up any cracks, holes, or entrances into your house before the onset of cold weather.
In the event that your house becomes an overwintering spot for ladybugs, do not fear, these insects cannot harm you, your pets, or your possessions. The worst they can do is give off a slightly unpleasant odor, and they may bite if handled (don't worry, it is almost painless). Many times these insects can exist in our homes almost unnoticed, and will vacate the premises in the spring, when the weather warms up. If you just can't stand having them in your home for the winter months, the easiest, cheapest, and most environmentally friendly way to deal with them is to invest in a good vacuum cleaner. Vacuum up the ladybugs and then empty the bag outside (don't let them sit inside it, they can sometimes escape), though be sure to empty it far enough away from your house so they don't return!
For more information visit Michigan State University's Integrated Pest Management Resources site