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People love this helpful, pretty, little beetle

Backyard Safari

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Media contact: Jessica Basham

People love to see ladybugs. They are pretty and shiny with tiny, black dots on their little, red bodies. Ladybugs are also orange, yellow and pink.  A ladybug, however, is not a true bug but a member of the beetle family.

Many cultures think ladybugs bring good luck. Long ago, tiny aphids (plant-eating bugs) attacked farmers' crops. The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. Ladybugs, they said, arrived and ate up the aphids, saving the crops. So farmers called them "Our Lady's Beetles," and they became known as "lady beetles."  Now we call them ladybugs, even though some of them are boys.  There are more than 400 species of ladybugs in the United States and nearly 5,000 worldwide.

A ladybug's color helps protect it from predators.  Red, yellow, orange and black are all colors that warn enemies they are about to eat something that will make them sick or tastes yucky.

A ladybug also protects itself by playing dead. If grabbed or touched, the ladybug will squirt out a small amount of blood from its leg joints. This blood smells really bad. Because the beetle looks and smells dead, a hungry bird will skip this snack.  When the danger has passed, the ladybug may fly away.

Its little body is really a hard shell that covers its wings.  When it wants to fly, it lifts up the two sides of its shell and beats its wings. It can beat its wings up to 85 times per second.

Ladybugs and their larvae (young ladybugs) love to munch on aphids. Ladybug larvae look like tiny alligators and are black and orange or black and pink.

Ladybugs can eat up to 50 aphids a day. Eating so many not only fills them up but protects farm crops and gardens from aphids and other bugs. Aphids suck the juice out of leaves and cause them to curl up and die.

When you go searching for a ladybug, look in places where aphids might hang out, such as milkweed plants, rose bushes, farm fields and orchards. Go outside and look on the top and bottom of leaves. Are some leaves curled up and dead-looking, or covered with a blackish mold?  Look closely; you may see aphids, which means a ladybug might be nearby.

Be part of the healthy Get Outdoors Florida! movement by getting outdoors and helping scientists find ladybugs. All you need is a camera. In an effort to study and track ladybugs, Cornell University's Lost Ladybug Project wants to know where ladybugs live. If you see a ladybug, take its picture, showing its top. If you can, get it to crawl on a piece of white paper, so its spots and colors show up better in the photo.  Then write down where and when you saw the ladybug. Next, you or your parents can visit to fill out more information and e-mail the picture to the Lost Ladybug Project.

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