A few weeks ago I overheard a youngster explain, “You can tell how old she is by counting her spots.”
I was relieved when I realized he wasn’t talking about me, but rather, a ladybug. And as I explained to him, not every ladybug is a “she” and counting spots does not reveal age, or even species.
Young people who participate in our Insect Safari Family Programs get really excited when they spot an insect, and among the most popular insects with learners of all ages are ladybugs–those beneficial red-orange beetles with the polka-dotted backs.
While marking are important for species recognition and mating to many insects, spots play absolutely no role in ladybug courtship. Ladybugs really don’t see very well, so they locate each other by smell.
Curiously, individuals of the same species can come in a whole assortment of colors and designs. A book called Ladybugs by Sylvia Johnson contains a series of photographs of one species of ladybug beetle. This species can occur as black with little red spots, or black with four orange spots, or orange with black spots.
According to Johnson, scientists currently believe that such variations within a species are probably caused by differences in temperature, humidity, and other conditions during early stages of metamorphosis.
So really, you can’t tell the age of a ladybug (or much of anything else) by counting the spots on a ladybug, but those polka-dots do make ladybugs easy to spot.
Participants in our Insect Safari probably will find ladybugs in the field, but we hope they also will find some in the Crossroads Heritage Garden. Ladybugs, in both their immature and adult forms, are awesome hunters–they eat the insects that destroy plants in a garden. That’s why we avoid spraying pesticides in our garden. We want to encourage the beneficial insects.
Family programs are offered at Crossroads Monday through Thursdays during the summer months. The programs are free and open to the public and all begin at the Collins Learning Center.