The BioGeek Memoirs: Ladybug and Aphid

It has suddenly gotten cold here, and I had to bring in plants from outside when we had a hard frost Sunday night. This morning there was a ladybug on the kitchen wall near the ceiling. It was early, I hadn’t had my morning latte yet, and my knees weren’t all that interested in climbing up on the counter to catch the ladybug.

That big jade plant used to be on my front porch.

I’m pretty sure that the ladybug caught a ride into the house on one of the two jade plants that I brought in for the winter. Poor thing. I looked for it later when I was fully caffeinated, and my knees were warmed up, but it was gone. Poor thing. I’ll keep looking for it, but chances are the cats are on the job and its days are numbered.

This is a ladybug. You may know them as ladybird beetles or ladybirds.

They are all over the yard at the moment. I found several while getting the leaves raked up last week and I’m hoping that I didn’t put any of them in the trash bags with the leaves. They are cute, right? I bet you used to catch them and did the “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…” thing with them too. I just loved ladybugs as a kid and loved to watch them lift their bright spotted elytra (wing covers) as they took to flight from off my pudgy little kid finger.

You’d never know that they were relentless predators, right?

See all of those aphids on my rose? I needed some ladybugs to come take care of this for me!!!

That’s right, ladybugs prey on aphids. Yay, ladybugs! You may not recognize them on the bushes while they are on the hunt because a lot of the munching happens in the nymph form, and they look kind of like alien spiders of some type. You remember learning about the butterfly life cycle, right? Ladybugs are somewhat the same with the nymphs being the hungry caterpillar equivalent.

I used to use ladybugs and aphids in my teaching because they are good examples of sexual and asexual reproduction. Ladybugs mate between males and females to combine DNA from both parents in the offspring, and aphids do that too, but the reason they can take over the garden so quickly is because they mostly are reproducing without any mating and can produce ridiculous numbers of offspring within weeks as the new females (yep, they are all females) lay even more eggs and you can get a rose like mine above before you even know you have a problem. This is why I wanted to return that kitchen ladybug back to the garden outside.

(Are you wondering if I showed pictures of ladybugs mating to my biology students? Of course, I did! If you had to teach meiosis to 16 year-old teenagers who were becoming bored out of their minds, you would have too!!)

Every once in a while, the ladybugs get out of control and swarm here in Colorado. I mean, there can be a lot of ladybugs all at once!! Check out this picture! It tends to happen when we have really wet springs, so the ladybugs seem to manage okay as they clear the local ecosystem of aphids and then move on to other pests, and my roses certainly do great those years. We haven’t had a swarm in about a decade now because of drought, but the ladybugs in my yard certainly have been handling all of the aphids.

I guess I should go look for that ladybug again…