While I have known since childhood that ladybugs are “good” bugs, it was only two years ago that I came to recognize their larval form and researched their life cycle.
Early in July of 2011, my ancient cherry tree suffered an infestation. The last 12 inches of every branch were completely black with aphids.
This had happened a few years earlier but a sudden, torrential, hour-long downpour had washed them clean.
This time, as I waited, hoping for another storm, I noticed tiny spiny-looking black and orange insects all over the tree. They looked like miniature alligators.
Searching the Internet, I discovered they were ladybug larvae.
I was astonished when, in less than two weeks, my tree was cleared of aphids leaving the branch ends green and healthy.
During that time, I observed the larvae moulting several times as they grew.
One day they turned into tiny (orange with black spots) shrimp-like shapes. These quickly became chrysalises, hanging on leaves as well as the adjacent shed wall and composter.
About a week later, new ladybugs hatched.
These would eat, mate and lay tiny oblong, cream-coloured eggs on the undersides of leaves.
A female may produce 200 to 1,000 eggs, laying them in clusters where larvae are assured of food (mostly aphids but also scale insects, mites and insect eggs).
They hatch a few days after they are laid.
Over winter, ladybugs hibernate in clusters in sheltered places under tree bark, in logs, leaf litter, etc.
Ladybugs also require pollen as food.
They are most attracted to umbrella-shaped flowers such as yarrow, dill, fennel, cilantro, sweet alyssum and members of the aster family such as sunflowers, coneflowers, marigolds, calendula, cosmos and zinnias.
It’s good to interplant some of these with vegetables as well as having them in flower gardens.
These and other flowers help attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. The more plant varieties (diversity) we have on our property, the better natural balance we create between pests and beneficial insects and birds.
The most important commitment to make is to refrain from using any pesticides as they will disrupt the balance and kill off beneficials as well as the pests.
It’s fascinating to watch insects at work.
If you don’t have a garden, I suggest a visit to the unH2O Xeriscape Demonstration Garden to enjoy the flowers and insects. It’s also a great place to visit with young children and see this amazing world through their fresh eyes.
July 31 is the dead-line for the early bird draw for the Xeriscape Garden Contest. Details and the entry form are at www.okanaganxeriscape.org.
The prize is two cubic meters of Classic Compost, delivered. Thanks to Dean Dack and Classic Compost for this donation. Deadline for the contest, and more chances at prizes, is Aug. 31.