Ladybirds come in all shapes and sizes and several species are found in South Africa. In different parts of the world they are also referred to as Ladybugs or Ladybeetles. They belong to the Coccinellidae family.
While some ladybird species are herbivorous (plant-eating), many of the species commonly found in South Africa are predators of soft-bodied insects (such as aphids – “plant lice”), and their eggs and larvae. These types of insects cause damage to plants and crops, which means that ladybirds are nature’s own biological control agents to keep the population of these pests under control.
Ladybirds usually mate during spring and summer and lay their eggs in clusters close to aphid colonies. Ladybirds lay between a few and several hundreds of eggs at a time, depending on the species. Over their lifetime they can lay up to 1000 eggs. In most cases, the eggs hatch within 3-6 days and small, black larvae, that are only a few millimeters in length, will emerge. The larvae can grow up to 2 centimeters long over the span of 2 -6 weeks. When the larvae are fully grown, they form pupae. Between 3-7 days later the pupa will develop into an adult ladybird. The total life cycle of most ladybirds is therefore only between 3 -8 weeks long. Adult ladybirds can live up to 3 years in the wild.
A portion of the eggs is usually infertile to provide food for the larvae when they hatch. The proportion of infertile to fertile eggs increases when there is a food scarcity at the time that the eggs are laid.
Most species of ladybird (and their larvae) in South Africa are carnivorous and therefore play an important role in the biological control of other insects. Ladybirds can consume several times their own body weight in pests each day. However, due to the fact that some species of ladybirds are herbivorous, not all ladybirds are considered beneficial.
Ladybird larvae are usually small and black with yellow or white markings, often having spikes.
Ladybirds are sensitive to changes in their environment and have therefore been proposed as suitable ecological indicators for studying environmental change.
The name “ladybird” or “ladybug” has been argued to be derived from “Lady Mary’s bug”, referring to the Virgin Mary who was often depicted wearing red. The black dots on a ladybird have been said to represent the 7 joys and 7 sorrows of Lady Mary. It was not uncommon for creatures to be awarded names with a sacred association in Elizabethan times. Ladybirds have also been considered a symbol of good fortune in some cultures.