Birds, Cows, Hens, and Bugs – Things the Ladybug is Not

Written by Nancy Miorelli

One of the questions that I’ve seen on Twitter and on Instagram is why is the ladybug called a “ladybug” or a “ladybird” if you’re in the UK. These names are especially confusing because it’s obviously not a bird but more confusingly is not a “bug” either. It’s a beetle, in the family Coccinellidae.

Seriously - who's responsible for this?  PC: Gilles San Martin (CC by SA 2.0)

Seriously – who’s responsible for this?
PC: Gilles San Martin (CC by SA 2.0)
Edited by Nancy Miorelli

But to answer this question we have to go back to the middle ages in Europe where the term “Ladybird” was first used.

The Legend:

Legend has it, that the farmers during this period were plagued with aphids. While aphids aren’t as grandiose and awe inspiring as locusts, they can do quite a bit of damage to plants. The farmers, not knowing what else to do, prayed to the Virgin Mary for help.

Shortly after doing so, a swarm of ladybugs appeared on the horizon and gobbled up all of the pesky aphids. The farmers, called their saviors “Our Lady’s Bird” referring to the Virgin Mary. Apparently they were not well versed in the differences between insects and birds though.

NomNomNom PC: Ian Marsman (CC by NC ND 2.0)

NomNomNom
PC: Ian Marsman (CC by NC ND 2.0)

The most common ladybug in Europe is the Seven-Spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) which is a beautiful red color with seven spots. Since early depictions of Mary often show her with a red cloak, the ladybug was further associated with her. The seven spots on its back are through to represent her seven joys and seven sorrows

Left: Mary and Jesus (Passauer Gnadenbild 1517-1525). Public Domain. Right: Seven Spot Ladybird by Reytan (CC by SA 3.0)

Left: Mary and Jesus (Passauer Gnadenbild 1517-1525). Public Domain.
Right: Seven Spot Ladybird by Reytan (CC by SA 3.0)

Fast forward a couple hundred years and the British colonized America. In the United States we kept using the word “Ladybird” until “Ladybug” made it’s appearance in the early 1900’s.

Y-Axis: Indicies per Million Words Found Here - Data from

Y-Axis: Indices per Million Words
Found Here – Data from The Corpus of Historical American Language

Other Names in Other Languages:

PC: Seth Anderson (CC by SA 2.0)

PC: Seth Anderson (CC by SA 2.0)

In German, ladybugs are called “Marienkafer” which translates to “Mary’s Beetle”. So, good job Germany for getting animal correct.

In Danish it’s called “Mariehøne” which translates to “Mary’s Hen”.

In Slovak it’s called “Lienka” which doesn’t have a direct translation. However, it’s sometimes called “Panbozkova Kravicka” which translates to “Lord God’s Little Cow”. This might seem strange, but a lesser known English common name is “Lady Cow”. Okay, it’s still strange. Just a strange that showed up in two languages.

In Dutch it’s called “Lieveheersbeestje“which translates to “Dear Lord’s Beetle”

In Korean , it’s called 무당벌레 (Mudang buhl-eh,무당- witch doctor; 벌레- insect). This is because the traditional witch doctors would wear colorful robes when preforming the rituals. Therefore, the beetle’s coloration was reminiscent of the colorful clothing worn by the witch doctors.

The family name “Coccinellidae” comes from the Latin “Coccineus” which means “Scarlet.” At least scientists are reliably boring and accurate.

If you want to contribute to the random assortment of animals that the ladybug has been associated with, you can always dress you dog up for Halloween.

You can wow everyone with your Ladydog.  You can buy this here.

You can wow everyone with your Ladydog.
You can buy this here.

I don’t speak any of the aforementioned languages (sometimes English is hard for me…) so if you have further insight or want to add what ladybugs are called in other languages that you speak, comment below!

About Nancy

Entomologist, Science Communicator, and Crafter Twitter: @SciBugs
This entry was posted in Culture, Taxonomy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Birds, Cows, Hens, and Bugs – Things the Ladybug is Not

  1. Alan says:

    Names can be very convoluted. We have a bird called a Robin. It has a red breast and used to be called a Redbreast. Then it acquired the alliterative prefix Robin Redbreast. Now it’s just a Robin.
    The American Robin is not related but has a fairly similar red breast! (It’s a Thrush really)
    P.s. I love your blogs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nancy says:

      Indeed! At least with birds the English common names are standard. With insects it’s crazy and terrible. Like in GA we have “Red bugs” [Chiggers] and in NY we also have “Red bugs” [Myrids] which are pests on apples. When I first got to Georgia and everyone was telling me to watch out for the chiggers I was super confused haha.

      Thanks for the comment/compliment ^.^

      Like

  2. Seems like a daily holy beetle or holy cow beetle. Interesting will look up in Spanish too but haven’t seen any in our part of Spain…maybe yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nancy says:

      Glad you liked it! Keep your eye out, you should have ladybugs but they can vary in color tremendously. The Spanish is ‘Mariquita’ – which as far as I can tell is a diminutive of “Sissy” or something like that. I don’t know the etymology of this one. Apparently another, no so common name, in Spanish is ‘Vaca de San Antón’ (St. Antón’s Cow) which alludes again to the cow thing.m

      Like

  3. Guillaume D. says:

    In French it’s “coccinelle”, which has the same origin as Coccinellidae. They’re sometimes called “bête à bon Dieu” which translates to ‘good God’s beast’.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Birds, Cows, Hens, and Bugs – Things the Ladybug is Not | Remembrance of Things Past

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