Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

April 1, 2012

Ladybug, Ladybug How Many Spots Have Thee?

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 12:20 pm


These warm spring days have lured out a host of hibernating people and insects. Commas, Question Marks, and Mourning Cloak butterflies have been flitting about since early March, and queen Paper Wasps have joined in the seasonal pageant – primed to set up their monarchies.  Lots of large hairy flies have crawled out from under “bark and stone” seeking putrid refreshment. Large hairy men, sporting tank tops, have also been spotted mowing their lawns already. Ah, spring.

Ladybugs – or Ladybird Beetles if you please – are among the creatures venturing forth as adults. They hibernate in crevices, under leaf litter, or in house attics and become active at the first warmth of spring.  Most members of this beetle clan are orange with multiple black spots and they are easily identified as ladybugs by large hairy men and small hairless children alike.  The number of spots can be baffling, however. They can range in number from none to 20 or so. Asian Ladybugs are especially varied and no two look exactly alike.  The morbidly named Twice-stabbed Ladybug takes this spot-madness even further. By being jet black with two red spots, they reverse the usual color combination. At least they are consistently two-spotted.

 The name of this particular Ladybug is appropriate. The scientific name has the term “stigma” as the species name. This literally means “spot or mark,” but the word is more often associated with wounds (the “stigmata” of Christ, for instance).  

 Speaking of Twice-stabbed Beetles, I’ve noticed something.  At present, there is hardly a Red Maple tree that doesn’t have at least a few of these black shiny critters crawling about on the sunny side of the trunk. I don’t believe this is because I am looking only at Red maple trees, but because these things are truly clustering there. There is a tight association of Twice-Stabbed Beetles with Red Maples. I have a guess as to why that is so. Ladybugs are predators, so it’s not about feeding on the tree buds or leaves, but instead it is about feeding on the other tree pests. Cottony Maple Scales, tiny relatives of the aphid, are known to infest Red Maples and Ladybugs – especially Crucified ones- are well known scale eaters. So, they are seeking Cotton Candy there upon the Red Maple trees and saving the world for you and me.

 You’ll note the rhyme in the previous sentence. That just came off of my fingers as they flew across the keys. Ladybugs will do that to a person. Perhaps you’ve heard “Ladybug, ladybug fly away home.  Your house is on fire and your children will burn (except little Nan who sits in a pan weaving gold thread as fast as she can”). As usual, ladybug verse is both odd and arbitrary. There are more, but since I am talking about a two-spotted critter here it would be best to concentrate strictly on spot legends (see spot, see spot run, run large hairy man run).

 Ladybug spots have long been the subject of a whole host of stupid legends. For instance, if a woman sits on one accidently, the number of spots on the squashed bug will indicate the number of children she will bear.  There is nothing about age in this particular legend, so we wonder if it is possible for a 97 year old to have twins? Another tale relates the falsehood that if a ladybug falls onto a farmer’s shoulder, the number of spots on that individual will predict the success of the harvest. If the critter has less than 7 spots then the harvest will be good. If more than seven spots then death, destruction, and famine will follow. I would advise all you farmers out there to stand under a Red Maple Tree.

 In truth, those red spots on the stark black background of the Twice-stabbed Ladybug serve as a warning to all potential predators that the bearer is nasty tasting.  In other words “heed this warning and save yourself the trouble of eating me. I will make you sick.” This negative advertising insures that a wandering “bug” can stay alive along as it avoids feminine hind ends, third stabbings, and large hairy men in tank tops.


1 Comment »

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    Comment by knowing it — June 28, 2014 @ 2:23 am

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