Written by Nancy Miorelli
This meme – floating around FB. Fact? Fiction? Mix?
I’m starting to feel like we’re the Snopes of Entomology.
Mostly False. Like 98% False. And lots of misleading information.
There’s so much going on here I don’t even really know where to start. So I guess, let’s start with the name.
Ladybugs, Ladybirds, Lady beetles, Hens, Cows, What?
I’ve talked about the naming of ladybugs here – but here’s a recap. All of these names are given to members of the family Coccinellidae. All members of this group are beetles, so lady beetle is the most correct common name. They’re called ladybugs in the US and ladybirds in the UK. So it’s not that one’s a “ladybug” and the other is a “lady beetle” its just these are two common names given to species in the family Coccinellidae.
🐞 Score Count: Names – MISLEADING
Color Me This
It looks like the lady beetle on the left is representing the 7 Spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata). This is fine as this lady beetle pretty much only looks like this.
The Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis) on the other hand comes in an amazing array of colors and half the time doesn’t even have the “M” shape on its thorax. So this identification marker is basically uselesss
🐞 Score Count: Identification for Asian Lady Beetle – WRONG
You Mad Bro? – Aggressive / Bite / Outwardly Harmful
Neither of these two lady beetles bite. I mean, they bite things that are the size of a sesame seed. But you, and even the tiniest dog I’ve ever seen, are larger than a sesame seed. If they DO bite you, which can happen, it feels like nothing more than a pinprick so you’re not in any grave danger.
They’re not aggressive. Except against things they deem food. Like aphids. But if you’re not an aphid (and I’m going out on a limb here – but I’m guessing if you can read this, you’re not an aphid) – they aren’t going to hurt you. This is true for lady beetles in general.
🐞 Score Count: Aggressive? No.
Okay … But the Ooze? And Smell?
Asian lady beetles do ooze! But so do like, almost every other of the 6,000 lady beetles that make up the family Coccinellidae. Even the 7 Spotted Lady Beetle does. That’s why lady beetles are bright colors. They’re warning you that they’re toxic and taste bad. That’s called “Aposematic Coloration.”
Lady beetles, and several other beetle families, have the ability to ooze blood and toxins from their joints which is called “reflex bleeding.”
This generally dissuades things from eating it because it tastes bad and can make the predators sick. In the case of lady beetles, they release alkaloids which can be found in a wide variety of other organisms including bacteria and fungi.
Can it make your dog sick? Yes. If your dog is dumb enough to eat like 20 or so of them, yes. But that rarely, if ever happens. There is only one, scientifically, reported case of it.
🐞 Score Count: Misleading. Yes – Asian Lady Beetles do it. But most, if not all lady beetles do.
Hi – Is This Place Up For Rent? Let Me Just Call Some Friends.
Both the Asian Lady Beetle and the Seven Spotted Lady Beetle live OUTSIDE! Unless your home is a jungle there’s really not much food for them inside. So both species live outside during the warm summer, spring, and beginning of fall months.
What happens is the Asian Lady Beetle is invasive. So its population is out of control in the US and in the UK. Which means there’s high competition to find a place to hide for the winter. Because, really, who has time for winter?
What happens is one or a few lady beetles find your home and are like “Oh this is a great place to sleep for a while,” and they release what’s called an “Aggregation Pheromone” which calls over all of their buddies. They’re basically saying, “Over here! I found a place! It’s great!” Then when the friends arrive, the friends invite more friends which is not unlike many parties I’ve been too and then immediately regretted.
🐞 Score Count: Misleading. Yes Asian Lady Beetles will overwinter indoors. But so do other lady beetles. And other insects. And they definitely live outside.
Good For the Environment? What Does This Even Mean?
Lady beetles are important predators in their natural environment. We tend to label all invasives as “BAD SPECIES” but invasives come from somewhere. And where they’re native to, they’re important and good for that environment. Now then – I’ll get off my soapbox and talk about the matter at hand.
In the UK the 7 Spotted Lady Beetle is a native species and fits right into the ecosystem. The Asian Lady Beetle is invasive. In the US – they’re BOTH nonnative. The Asian Lady Beetle is invasive, and the Seven Spotted Ladybeetle at least pushes out some native lady beetle species! Neither of them belong in the US and they are out competing native species. So “good for the environment” is 100% based on where you live.
They were brought over to aid in pest control for agriculture and gardens. This didn’t work. Mainly, because ladybugs are generalist predators and shove just about anything into their fat little mouths. The good. The bad. The ugly. And because they have wings, when there isn’t something edible immediately in sight – they just fly away! So many people buy ladybugs thinking they’ll help their garden, only to realize that in 30 minutes, all 100 of them are gone. And eating native things that we need. And they probably bought a non-native species.
Moral of the story: don’t buy ladybugs for your garden.
You can check out a list of native to the US lady beetles here and even contribute photos when you see them so we can continue to monitor them.
🐞 Score Count: Misleading. “Bad for the environment” is based on where you live. and if you’re in the US – both are “bad.”
Basically this meme / infographic is wrong. And the parts that aren’t wrong either encompass the biology of most lady beetles or is very misleading. Here’s a summary image.
Eisner T, Esiner M, Siegler M. 2005. Secret Weapons: Defenses of Insects, Spiders, Scorpions, and Other Many-Legged Creatures. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge Massachusetts.
Majerus MEN, Roy HE, and Brown PMJ. 2016. A Natural History of Ladybird Beetles. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Stocks IC & Lindsey DE. 2008. Acute corrosion of the oral mucosa in a dog due to ingestion of Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia axyridis: Coccinellidae). Toxicon 52(2): 389-391.
Nancy Miorelli, @SciBugs, is living in Quito Ecuador. To help fund her stay she sells eco-friendly, bug jewelry featuring jewel beetle shells and an Ecuadorian nut called Tagua! Check out her shop SciBugsCollections!