• Q: How do ladybugs protect themselves?

    A: Nature has uniquely designed a warning system of colors. Red, yellow and black are colors that warn predators that the insect they are about to eat might not be a good lunch choice. The colors can warn of danger such as poisonous, bad taste, or the ability to defend itself against the predators. Colors can also camouflage and warn when there is nothing about the insect that is harmful. Ladybugs can also protect themselves by playing dead. By pulling their legs up "turtle-style", and typically release a small amount of blood from their legs. (This is called reflex bleeding.) The bad smell and the apparent look of death usually deter predators from their small ladybug snack. After the threat of danger has passed, the ladybug will resume its normal activities.

  • Q: Why Do Ladybugs have Spots?

    A: Lady bugs are known to have spots for protecting themselves or for giving warning to others. Lady bugs appear in red or orange color and they may have black or white or gold color spots. There is an opinion that lady bugs tell the predators through the spots that they are bad and bitter when they are eaten. Some ladybugs are found with black with red spots. The various kinds of markings and spots on the ladybugs can be utilized for the identification of a particular species and in classifying them. Many entomologists believe that lady bugs have a red color and black spots mostly to warn the predators that they are poisonous and they are not to be eaten. The body of the ladybug has a chemical that is bitter to the taste. Lady bugs when eaten by a bird make it sick for a while and frighten the bird. The bird will remember the pattern of spots on the bug and will never want to eat another bug again.

    There are several myths on the lady bugs. There is a story in Brussels that when a lady bug sits on someone, the number of spots on that bug will indicate the number of children he will have. Several farmers believe that the number of spots on the lady bug that falls on you will tell the fate of the next crop and the extent that one can reap from it. If the spots are less than seven then you will reap much better. There is another belief that when a lady bug sits on you, count the number of spots on it and you are believed to get that many numbers of dollars. Whatever may be the story on the spots of the lady bugs, their spots decorate their bodies to make them appear beautiful to the world.

    Where and when to look for ladybugs: The best time to look will be between May and October. Prime season will vary according to your local climate. The best places to look will be on or around lush plant growth (especially if there are aphids). If you have access and permission, agricultural fields can make excellent collecting sites. Crops that are known to harbor many ladybugs include forage fields like alfalfa or clover and grains like wheat and corn before it gets too tall. Be sure to get permission from the grower first and make sure that the field has not been recently sprayed with chemicals. Other types of plants like wild flowers, weeds and even trees and shrubs can be home to many ladybugs too.

    How to collect ladybugs: The best collection method will depend on the habitat. For softer plants like grasses, weeds or flowers you will catch more if you use a sweep net. A sweep net is essentially a tough cloth bag on a metal ring attached to long handle. By sweeping your net back and forth through the plants you knock them off and they land in your net. If you do use a sweep net you will probably want to divide into two groups with one group "sweeping" and then dumping what they find into a bin or onto a sheet for the other group to catch and place in containers. For tough, thorny, or woody plants you can carefully grab the ladybugs or tap them into a jar. Alternatively you can lay a sheet below the bush or tree and "beat it" (not too hard!) with a stick or dowel and then collect the ladybugs as they fall onto the sheet.

  • Q: How do insects survive the winter?

    A: Insects survive in an inactive state of arrested development known as diapauses. Until diapauses is terminated, eggs do not hatch; nymphs, larvae, and pupae do not go on to the next life stage; and females neither lay eggs nor give birth. Most, but not all, diapauseing insects are inactive. Most protect themselves against freezing temperatures by producing an antifreeze, an alcohol such as glycerol, sorbital, or mannitol. Their low metabolic rate, usually one-tenth or less of that of a non diapausing insect, allows them to feed off their store of body fat, so that they can survive through the long winter

  • Q: What is the best way to begin using beneficial insects?

    A: First, you have to identify what pest you have. Like going to the doctor - the doctor has to know what’s wrong with you (a virus, bacteria, cancer, etc.) before he or she can treat your problem. It’s the same thing with using beneficial insects. Before you bring in a good bug, you have to know what bad bug is causing the problem. You can identify the pest insect by looking it up in books, gardening magazines, the Internet, etc. If you can’t figure out what kind of insect you have, take it to your Cooperative Extension Office or another local expert. Once you have identified the pest then you can use those same sources to find out which beneficial insects are best to control the pest. How do I put the beneficial insects in the garden? They will probably come with instructions on how to release them, but it will likely involve walking around the garden and shaking the good bugs out of their container. If you release them in the evening or early morning, just after you’ve watered the garden you will help to keep them in your garden. It’s better to release the good bugs in small batches all around the garden than in one big group.

  • Q: What do I have to do once the good bugs are in my garden?

    A: Give them time to work their magic. Chemical pesticides control pests quickly but beneficial insects won’t work that fast. Make your new garden friends as happy as you can by providing them with water and shelter. Remember that your good bugs are living creatures - you can’t use harmful pesticides while they are in your garden. (Don’t poison your own troops!)

  • Q: Why not spray a pesticide?

    A: You may kill the insects that are helping you keep pests in check. This means you will have to spray more in the future. Also, insects benefit your garden by pollinating your plants, helping them grow and propagate.

  • Q: How do you make your good bugs feel welcome?

    A: Beneficial insects are more likely to remain in your garden if there is a ready food supply. While you can buy many of these predators, it's probably cheaper and more effective to encourage the ones already in your garden. Many beneficial insects need to sip flower nectar to survive. Plan your garden to feed beneficial insects by choosing a variety of plants that will bloom as many months of the year as possible. Here are some things you can do to support your beneficial insect population:

    • To encourage good bugs, provide them with an alternative food source when meals of pest insects are scarce. Flowers produce nectar and pollen which are used as food by the adults of many beneficial insects. Set aside an area of your yard for perennial and wildflowers. Composite flowers (sunflowers, desert marigolds, etc.) are favorites with insects. Also attractive are plants of the Umbelliferae family, including carrots, celery, coriander, dill, fennel and parsley. Allowing these plants to flower will provide a good food source.
    • A source of water will also help attract insects. This is especially important during dry weather. Bird baths and other small, shallow containers are best suited for this purpose. Sticks or rocks placed in the water will serve as perches for insects to access the water. Keep in mind that standing water will also attract mosquitos. Either change the water twice-weekly or place a mosquito dunk (Bt) in the water to prevent mosquito breeding.


For years scientists have known that ladybugs will climb a stalk to capture aphids and aphids will escape by falling off the stalk with the help of gravity. The burning question that still remained was how would the aphid's defense mechanisms work in the absence of gravity? In other words, what would the aphid do to escape the ladybug in space? Finally, in 1999 four ladybugs were sent into space on NASA's space shuttle led by Eileen Collins. Ladybugs and their favorite food, aphids, were sent to zero gravity to study how aphids would get away without the aid of gravity. After completing the mission, it was evident that ladybugs survived and did eat aphids in a microgravity environment. Seems like ladybugs could qualify being astronauts!

Ladybugs have been valued since medieval times as farmer’s helpers.

Some believed that the ladybug was divinely sent to rid crops of insect pests. In fact, that’s how that ladybug got its name. People dedicated the bug to the Virgin Mary and called it "The Bug of Our Lady," which got shortened to the present name "ladybug." in the Middle Ages, huge swarms of insects were eating up crops. The people prayed to Mary for help--and then ladybugs came and ate the pests. Another interpretation is that the ladybug rhyme is a cryptic reference to the fall of matriarchy and the rise of patriarchy, thus the reference to St. Ann who portends an eventual return to Goddess worship. Another interpretation is that this is a rhyme of resurrection and everlasting life, since the central figure is a beetle, one of the world's oldest symbols of the resurrection. More than 100 years ago, people in Europe thought that ladybugs could help them in many different ways. In Austria, people used to ask the ladybug for good weather. In Switzerland, people told their children that human babies were brought by ladybugs. People in northern Germany counted spots on the backs of ladybugs. Fewer than seven meant a big harvest. People in Central Europe believed that, if a girl caught a ladybug and it crawled across her hand, she would be married within a year.

Ladybugs Up Close

Adults have a very characteristic convex, hemispherical to oval body shape. The head is covered by a hood called the pronotum. They may be white, yellow, pink, orange, red or black, and usually have spots. In fact, this is a type of warning coloration to other animals that may try to eat lady beetles. Like many of other brightly-colored insects, ladybugs are bad-tasting to predators. When disturbed they may secrete an odorous sour fluid out of their joints to discourage enemies.

Adult females usually lay their clusters of eggs in the vicinity of aphid, scale, or mealybug colonies. The alligator-like larvae are also predators. They are spiny and black with bright spots. Although they look dangerous, lady beetle larvae are quite harmless to humans. After feeding on insect prey for several weeks, the larva pupates on leaves. Adults tend to move on once pests get scarce, while the larvae remain and search for more prey.

Folk Tales About Ladybugs

Many believe this began in England as a warning to ladybugs crawling on old hop vines. After the hops were harvested, the vines were burned to clear the fields. The adult ladybugs could fly away, the larva could crawl away, but the pupae could not leave the burning plants.

More interesting ladybug facts:

  • In the past, doctors would mash ladybugs and put them in your mouth to cure a toothache
  • In Switzerland, ladybugs are called "good God’s little fairy."
  • You can fit 80,000 ladybugs into a gallon jug
  • Male ladybugs are smaller than female ladybugs
  • Ladybugs are the official state insect of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Tennessee
  • They can live for as many as three years
  • A ladybug beats its wings 85 times per second when it flies
  • Their spots fade as they get older
  • The spotted wing covers on ladybugs are made from a material called chitin, the same as our fingernails

Are Praying Mantis cannibals?

A praying mantis, or praying mantis, is a kind of insect, of the family Mantidae (order Mantodea), named for their "prayer-like" stance. (The word mantis in Greek means prophet.) There are approximately 2,000 species world-wide; most are tropical or subtropical. There are three species of praying mantises that are common to North America: the European mantis (Mantis religiosa), the Chinese mantis (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis), and the Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina). The English and Chinese species were introduced to the United States around the 1900s as garden predators hoping to control the pest populations.

Mantis are notable for their large size and nimble reflexes. Their diet usually consists of living insects, including flies and aphids; larger species have been known to prey on small lizards, frogs, birds and even rodents. A mantis’s prey is caught and held securely with its grasping forelegs. Mantids make use of protective colouration to blend in with the foliage, both to avoid predators themselves, and to better snare their victims.

Mantis are also known to be cannibals. They are not only known to eat other insects but also other mantids, especially their mating partners. During the mating season, which typically begins in autumn, male mantids are cautious when approaching female mantids. The male usually approaches from behind and hangs onto the female's back with his front legs. He then deposits and stores sperm cells into a special chamber in the female abdomen. The danger may occur during the mating process or afterwards where the female mantis devours her male mate, sometimes starting by biting off his head. Usually the male mantis will try to get the job done before they are eaten, even if it means performing the task while they are being eaten. Aldous Huxley made philosophical observations about the nature of death while two mantis mated in the sight of two characters in the novel Island. The species was Gongylus gongylodes.

The praying mantis goes through three stages of metamorphosis: egg, nymph, and adult. Scientists also refer this to an incomplete metamorphosis because the nymph and adult insect look so much alike except it is smaller and has no wings. A mantis nymph increases in size by replacing its outer body covering with a sturdy, flexible exoskeleton and molting when needed. This can happen up to five to ten times, depending on the species. After the final molt it should have full grown wings.


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

University of Vermont

Most may not realize that over 97 percent of insects, spiders, and similar bugs (better known as "arthropods") in home gardens and landscapes are beneficial. That is, they either do no harm, provide food for desirable species such as birds, or prey upon insects we consider bad and destructive to our crops. Knowing some of the most common good bugs, and how to help and not harm them, will help minimize pest problems and the use of pesticides.

There are two main groups of beneficial insects. The predators, such as spiders and lady beetles, are generally larger than their prey, killing and feeding on them. The parasitoids, such as parasitic wasps and flies, are generally smaller than their hosts and lay eggs on or within them. When these eggs hatch, the resulting larvae (like small caterpillars) kill the host insects by feeding on them.

A University of Maine Extension bulletin provides nine tips to attract and sustain these beneficial insects.

  • Develop a tolerance to some damage to your plants. Most plants tolerate low levels with no lasting harm.
  • Provide shelter for your good bugs from adverse weather such as extreme heat. This just might be leaf litter and debris under shrubs (don’t be too tidy around them).
  • Increase the diversity of plantings in your landscape. A wide range of plants will support a wide range of beneficial insects. Avoiding monoculture with only one species of plant ensures that if you do get a problem, it wont get out of control and wipe your plantings out.
  • Don’t use bug zapper lights, those bluish ones that attract insects with ultraviolet light, then electrocute them. A University of Delaware study found these lights kill mainly harmless insects and not biting flies. In fact, most mosquito species are not attracted to ultraviolet light.
  • Think before you spray. This often kills beneficial insects as well as bad ones. Cutting out webworm nests from trees, picking off Japanese beetles, and improving airflow to deter slugs are examples of simple, non-toxic physical controls.
  • Regularly inspect plants for pests. It is much easier to control them as they just appear.
  • Know your insects before you make a decision on whether to control. Extension services, garden stores with trained staff, books, and online websites are useful in identification.
  • Provide plants for predators. These include flowers with umbels (umbrella-like clusters) such as yarrow, composites such as daisies, spikes such as lavender and goldenrod, and flat cups such as buttercups. Many predators like what we don’t and call weeds. It may be helpful to have a nearby patch for such "wildflowers."
  • Keep plants healthy. Pests usually attack weakened or stressed plants. These stresses can be created by improper watering (too much as well as too little in a drought, or sandy soil), improper placement of plants according to light and soil needs, mulching too close and deep around plants, and improper fertilization. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, may be worse than too little. Lush plants from excess fertilizer are favorite targets for pests such as aphids, mites, and the black vine weevil.

Biological Control: Questions and Answers for the Home Gardener

Stephen Bambara and David Orr

Department of Entomology, North Carolina State University
  • What Is Biological Control?

    Biological control is, generally, using a living organism to control a specific pest. When you choose a predator, parasite, or disease that will attack a harmful insect, you are manipulating nature to achieve a desired effect. A complete biological pest control program may range from choosing the pesticide that is least harmful to beneficial insects to raising and releasing one organism to have it attack another, almost like a "living insecticide."

  • What are the Advantages of Biological Pest Control?

    As part of an overall Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, biological control methods can reduce the legal, environmental, and health hazards of using chemicals in the garden. In some cases, biological control measures can actually prevent economic damage to the plants. Unlike most insecticides, biological controls are often very specific for a particular pest. People, animals, or helpful insects may be completely unaffected or undisturbed by their use. There is also less danger to the environment and water quality.

  • What are the disadvantages?

    Biological control takes more intensive management and planning. It can take more time, require more record-keeping, and demand more patience and education or training.

    To be successful, you need to understand the biology of the pest and its enemies. Many of the predators you will want to use in your home garden are very susceptible to pesticides. Using them successfully in an IPM program takes great care. In some cases, biological control is more costly than pesticides. Often, the results of using biological control are not as dramatic or immediate as the results of pesticide use. Most natural enemies attack only specific types of insects, whereas broad-spectrum insecticides may kill a wide range of insects. But this seeming advantage of insecticides can be a disadvantage when it kills beneficial insects.

  • What is a Beneficial Insect?

    In your garden, a beneficial insect is any insect that preys upon a harmful insect that damages your garden. Beneficial insects are the "good" insects that destroy insect pests. The beneficial insect might eat the harmful insect immediately, the harmful insect may be paralyzed and eaten later, or the beneficial insect may lay eggs so that its offspring will consume the harmful insect. For example, lacewing larvae eat aphids, paper wasps catch caterpillars and feed them to their young, and tiny parasitic wasps lay eggs into other insects and their offspring eat the insect from within.

  • How can I protect the Beneficial Insects Already in My Garden?

    First identify any unknown insects in your garden. Then you will know whether an insect is eating a plant, looking for another insect to eat, just seeking shelter, or merely passing through. If you find a harmful insect, you can determine how much damage it could cause and if a beneficial insect is needed.

    My advice to anyone wanting fewer problem insects in her garden without using toxic sprays and dusts? Make it beautiful. Even without knowing more about which plants benefit which insect species, just having a lot of flowering plants around will be a big addition to habitat options for Beneficial’s. But with some thought and research on the subject, you can design plots that do the job even better. At one time, hedge rows that separated one field or garden from the next provided an ample supply of insectary plants to feed and shelter a variety of beneficial insects. The wide variety of plants in a hedge row, including small trees and shrubs as well as perennial and annual weeds typically leaf out and bloom earlier than most crop plants, providing beneficial insects with an early food supply.

Most gardens today are too small for a hedge row. An alternative is to plant a border of dwarf fruit and flowering trees mixed with flowering shrubs and perennials. Such a border could be a landscape feature and screen the vegetable garden from view. At the same time, it would provide many of the benefits of the traditional hedge row.

Plan an insectary border for successive bloom from early spring through fall, providing nectar throughout the season. This will not only satisfy the needs of many beneficial insects, but also provide color in the garden. Avoid vigorous chemical control of pests found in the insectary border; after all, you don't want to kill beneficial insects. Also, any pests in the border may become hosts for beneficial insects should prey levels be low in the garden you are trying to protect.

  • What plants that attract Beneficial Insects?
    Achillea filipendulinaFern-leaf yarrow
    Achillea millefoliumCommon yarrow
    Ajuga reptansCarpet bugleweed
    Alyssum saxatilisBasket of Gold
    Anethum graveolensDill
    Anthemis tinctoriaGolden marguerite
    Asclepias tuberosaButterfly weed
    Atriplex canescensFour-wing saltbush
    Coriandrum sativumCoriander
    Daucus Carota QueenAnne's lace
    Fagopyrum esculentumBuckwheat
    Foeniculum vulgareFennel
    Helianthus maximilianiiPrairie sunflower
    Penstemon strictusRocky Mt. penstemon
    Potentilla recta 'warrenii'Sulfur cinquefoil
    Potentilla villosaAlpine cinquefoil
    Tagetes tenuifolia Marigoldlemon gem
    Tanacetum vulgareTansy
    Taraxacum officinaleDandelion
    Veronica spicataSpike speedwell
    Vicia villosaHairy vetch