Ladybug, ladybug fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All but one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the frying pan.
Many of us grew up with a similar rhyme and have fond memories of finding ladybugs in childhood. I know I do. The rhyme, incidentally, refers to an old custom of making a wish when seeing the lucky beetle – the idea was to sing the song before she flew away. It was bad luck to kill one. I’d say it still is.
As a gardener, ladybugs are a very welcome sight. They feed on aphids: small green bugs that suck sap out of plants and secrete a honeydew that ants feed on. Some ant species even actively protect aphids, herding them to safe places when they are not feeding.
Enter the ladybug. The adult and larvae eat an enormous number of aphids, helping to keep the aphid AND the ant population from getting out of hand. It took a few years of gardening until I recognize a ladybug larva. It’s not smooth at all (more like an accordion) and the coloring is reversed: instead of being red or orange with black spots, the larva bodies are black with lighter red or orange stripes down each side of its body.
Ladybugs can be purchased at local nurseries, or online. Don’t make the mistake I did, though, and release them in the middle of a windy day. Follow release instructions on the package and release at dusk so they land on your plants and stay in your garden to eat.
Ladybugs are true friends.