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Where Have All The Ladybugs Gone?

As a child, I remember being fascinated by ladybirds. They were everywhere with their armour-like wings that formed a shield when folded. I used to be like every other child - I would hold a ladybird delicately on my finger and sing the old rhyme. "Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children alone." Then I would blow ever so gently on the little luck bug to speed her on her way home. Now, I rarely see one; but, they still enthrall me.

One of the great mysteries of the insect world right now ranking up there with the loss of winged pollinators in general is what has happened to North America's native ladybug species? About 20 years ago, they started to "fly away" just like the nursery rhyme. There are still ladybugs to be found; but, the chances are they are not native ladybugs. One formerly widespread species, the nine-spotted ladybug, is now virtually extinct in northeast North America.

While ladybirds can still be seen, they are likely to be an invasive species such as the Asian lady beetle. Invasive ladybird beetles now account for two-thirds of all ladybugs in the United States and Canada.

Other countries are faring no better. The UK is suffering a serious invasion of Harlequin ladybugs. These aliens are taking over and pushing out the native species there as well. Many more countries are fighting their own battle with invasive alien ladybird beetles.

A luck bug.
A luck bug. | Source

Until the 1980s, the US Department of Agriculture repeatedly tried without success to introduce imported (alien) species of ladybugs to help in control of insect crop pests like aphids, moths, mealybugs and caterpillars. These invasive species did little more than hang on until lately. Now they are flourishing and the native ladybirds are gone. What changed?

It would appear that more of man's meddling is coming to fruition and we are reaping the rewards. John Losey, one of the world's leading experts on ladybugs, believes climate change could be a driving force behind native ladybug declines. He has enlisted the aid of thousands of "citizen scientists" - especially children - in both the USA and Canada to record sightings. Through his website, Lost Ladybug Project, he has collected over 10,000 reports and is still analyzing all the data.

Warmer temperatures may be a godsend for sun worshippers; but, they are a disaster for ladybirds. Warmer weather means less winter snow to cover the ladybugs' overwintering sites. They hibernate in grass, leaves and bark at the base of trees. The snow cover keeps the ground temperatures at a constant 0oC which is cold enough for them to remain dormant all winter without freezing to death.

Constant temperatures are the key to the little beetles successful hibernation. If the temperature drops too low, they freeze to death; and, if there is a warm spell, they could wake up, fly off leading to an early demise if the temperatures drop again.

John Losey says: "Overwintering mortality could be an important factor" in the declines.

Ladybugs are the workhorses of the pest suppression species.  They eat many times their weight in aphids and other plant-eating pests.
Ladybugs are the workhorses of the pest suppression species. They eat many times their weight in aphids and other plant-eating pests. | Source

The new introduced species have a unique overwintering habit that allows them to flourish regardless of the climate. In the wild, they use the cracks and fissures in cliffs for overwintering; but, in developed areas they find gaps and holes in the walls of houses and buildings. When the weather turns colder, they all mass there together in the chinks they have found or behind a bit of loose siding or anywhere that affords them a little protection for the weather.

However, one of the unforeseen consequences of importing the Asian ladybug is this habit of invading homes in swarms making it a nuisance. They have been nicknamed the "Halloween ladybug" because of the time of year they seek shelter inside. Invasive ladybugs are capable of biting though it is not dreadfully painful. However, when frightened they give off a yellowish ooze that can stain wall and smells bad. What an endearing quality!

To get an idea how beneficial these little guys can be in the plant-eating pest eradication department, read on. Ladybugs and other predator insects are so effective and so voracious, they add $4.5 billion to the US economy each year through natural pest suppression.

Additionally, there are hidden financial and environmental benefits that are not reflected in the $4.5 billion. For every acre that is treated by use of natural pest suppression, no chemicals are bought and used. Not only does the farmer save the price of the chemicals, there is no damage to the environment in that area.

There is another theory put forward by Scott Black, executive director of the Portland, Oregon-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. He feels the problem may be that native ladybirds are specialists while the invasive species are generalists. The native species have been here so long they have specific food, temperature, foliage; and, other requirements. If they are unable to find these conditions, they die rather than adapt.

The alien species; however, are generalists able to adapt to many changing conditions. If the conditions change, they change too. One theory is that introduced species like the Asian ladybug have pushed the native species out of their favoured habitat; and, the native species being unable to adapt are dying.

Another idea is that the number of parasitic wasps that prey upon ladybugs increased with the introduction of alien ladybugs. Changes in cropping patterns and loss of agricultural land also may have played a prominent role. 

Volunteers: Jaya Walsh and her son Gaelen look for ladybugs as part of the Lost Ladybug Project near Ithica, N.Y.
Volunteers: Jaya Walsh and her son Gaelen look for ladybugs as part of the Lost Ladybug Project near Ithica, N.Y. | Source

The truly worrisome aspect is the impact of the invasive species on the native species; not to mention, the wider ecosystem. It turns out that the imported ladybugs are highly aggressive predators that may be able to eradicate our own species. One of the most critical dangers of reduced ladybird diversity is that if there is a disease outbreak, there are fewer species to fall back on. We could lose ladybugs altogether; and, we cannot afford to lose even one species of winged pollinator.

John Losey says it very succinctly: "If you get a disease that wipes them out, you don't have a backup."

Comments 24 comments

ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 5 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

In the UK we call these Ladybirds. It is only Spring and I have seen a fair few already, yet family who live in the South of England say they have none. As a child there would be the odd year when there was a glut of them but yes overall they are declining.


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

Hello, pippap! Check out my ladybug on my blog site.

http://claimingmyprize.blogspot.com/

I decided to make it as my logo, since it's very rare to find it these days. Used to chase ladybugs during my childhood days.


orangecountyjill profile image

orangecountyjill 5 years ago from Orange County, California

caught one in my daughter's room last week. let it go outside :)


Anjili profile image

Anjili 4 years ago from planet earth, a humanoid

I'm impressed by your knowledge of Ladybirds. If what you say is happening, then we have reason to worry. I've witnessed a steady decline in their population compared to when I was a kid. Nicely done and well researched. Voted up and interesting.


katyzzz profile image

katyzzz 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Yes, now that you mention it, I used to see a lot of ladybirds while I was young, now very rarely, maybe two years between a sighting.

So sad, they are such lovely little creatures of great delight to children as they would sit quite happily on little fingers and did not Bight, a thought provoking hub on an interesting subject


pippap profile image

pippap 4 years ago from Surrey, BC Author

Thanks. When I moved into my home 17 years ago; there were so many ladybirds it was unbelievable. Now, I am fortunate to actually see three a year. So sad.


rere27 3 years ago

that is terrible. now that i think about it, i have not seen any ladybugs this summer.


pippap profile image

pippap 3 years ago from Surrey, BC Author

In the 17 years I have lived in my home, I have noticed such a decrease - not only in ladybirds but all winged pollinators - that I have made my balcony as winged pollinator-friendly as possible. I see a small difference - enough to keep me striving anyway.


MomsTreasureChest profile image

MomsTreasureChest 3 years ago

You're so right, I rarely see a ladybug any more and I used to see them all the time as a kid! That's such a shame they're becoming extinct. Thanks for the interesting and informative hub!


pippap profile image

pippap 3 years ago from Surrey, BC Author

When I first moved into my condo 18 years ago, the ladybugs were so plentiful they would come into the house by the hundred. Now, I'm fortunate if I see 10 a year.


jacksson47 profile image

jacksson47 2 years ago from Reedley, CA

Good hub, points out a big problem. The problem is bigger than just the lady bugs. Honey bees have declined in numbers along with praying mantis and others. One big problem in farming area is the spraying of the orchards and crops by farmers. Farmer A sprays next to Farmer B next to Farmer C, etc. All of these sprays are an overkill and the drift to adjacent farms and urban areas kills bugs that are not intended to be killed. Last farming season, I remember almost two weeks in the early spring when I did not see even one flying bug of any type around my crops. The big problem was no pollinators and, as a result, only the self-pollinating plants produced a crop.

Everyone needs to buy lady bugs and release them around their property and, maybe, overwhelm the competitors.


pippap profile image

pippap 2 years ago from Surrey, BC Author

There is a huge problem with all our winged pollinators. I have a fairly large balcony and do a lot of container gardening. I plant bee- and butterfly-friendly plants as well as plants that have lots of flowers (tomatoes, cherry tree) to nourish them. Every little bit helps. I have even set up a butterfly bungalow and a mason bee house to aid in helping our winged pollinators to survive and thrive.


jacksson47 profile image

jacksson47 2 years ago from Reedley, CA

The honey bee population is in decline because of something and I read that the other pollinators (solitary) will take up the slack, but the overkill in terminator sprays affect the solitaries as well.


pippap profile image

pippap 2 years ago from Surrey, BC Author

Unfortunately, all our winged pollinators are in danger.


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I like the beautiful colors of ladybugs. Every season during Spring I see them around and this year not much around.


pippap profile image

pippap 2 years ago from Surrey, BC Author

Thanks for your comment. Vanishing ladybugs is becoming a global problem.


Boss 23 months ago

I haven't seen a ladybug in so long. My siblings have never seen one. I know sad


pippap profile image

pippap 23 months ago from Surrey, BC Author

When I moved into my condo 20 years ago, I would see thousands of ladybugs. Now I consider myself lucky to see one ladybug a year.


jonathan 23 months ago

There are literally over 50 ladybugs within my home right now... What should I do


pippap profile image

pippap 23 months ago from Surrey, BC Author

Personally, I would enjoy it and leave a window open so they can leave whenever they want.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home

the last time i saw a lady bug was in my garden, my boy was fascinated


John Rhodes Reeder 21 months ago

Earlier I mentioned the spraying by the farmers and noticed another phenomena since then. The local homeowner in town and the suburbs is the worst offender regarding overspray. When I still lived in town, I noticed the mother of a lady living across the street came by her house when she was at work and sprayed round up or such and bug sprays; she drenched the landscape. Then she came back later in the day and repeated the process. Overspray, overspray, overspray; the non-farmer has no sense of caution and /or expense of sprays.


pippap profile image

pippap 21 months ago from Surrey, BC Author

When I was a child, I loved ladybirds - their armour-like wings, the dotted pattern. Unfortunately, children today don't see them in the quantities I used to. It's a shame.


pippap profile image

pippap 21 months ago from Surrey, BC Author

Agreed. There is far too much spraying going on in both the commercial and home production of vegs, fruits and flowers. There are many natural remedies and one of these is ladybirds. Ladybirds love those pesky aphids and will eat their way through all that they can find. The natural way is the best way.

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