Dr. Universe describes the life of a ladybug

How do ladybugs survive the winter?

  • Wednesday, April 12, 2017 11:57am
  • Life

How do ladybugs survive the winter? Are ladybugs we see in the spring several years old or did they just hatch? Are they worms before they are beetles? – Tanya, Pullman, WA

Dear Tanya,

You know it’s springtime when animals start coming out of hibernation. That includes ladybugs that crawl out from their cozy winter hiding places.

As you pointed out, ladybugs are actually a kind of beetle called the ladybird beetle. They go through a life cycle of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

When these young larvae hatch from their yellowish eggs, they don’t look like worms or even beetles.

They look more like tiny alligators with six legs and tiny spikes on their backs, said my friend Laura Lavine. She’s a scientist at Washington State University who studies insects and was happy to help out with your questions.

In the summer, these young alligator-looking larvae can be found searching for their favorite food. They feast on tiny insects called aphids that live on plants.

Young larvae are hungry predators. In fact, ladybird beetle larvae will even eat each other, spikes and all, if they get hungry enough. But more often, the larvae will feast on aphids.

These larvae shed their outer skeleton throughout this stage of life. They’ll use some of this shedding to attach themselves to a plant or sometimes the side of a building for their third stage of life. In this stage, they’re called a pupa and they build a cocoon to go through a transformation.

You may have heard about how a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. A caterpillar is also a kind of larva. It changes into an adult in a process we call metamorphosis. Ladybird beetle larvae go through metamorphosis to become adults, too.

After spending about two weeks inside their cocoon, or sometimes less, the adult beetle comes out into the world. Adult beetles will live for around three years or so. During that time, they will lay eggs and create several new generations. So the beetles you see in a group could be different ages.

When fall rolls around, adult beetles leave their feeding sites in yards, fields, and forests to hide out for the winter. They need a place where they can huddle together with hundreds or thousands of other beetles. This helps them stay protected from weather and keep from freezing.

They’ll find places in cracks, crevices, tree bark, and even your house or roof to spend the winter. On the Palouse where we live, we can find them in cracks of pine trees or logs. I might just have to take my magnifying glass outside and see if I can spot some ladybugs waking up from their hibernation.

Sometimes they land right on you and start crawling. But other times they can really zip around. Believe it or not, scientists have clocked ladybird beetles flying at 37 m.p.h.

Have you seen ladybugs or other insects in your neighborhood? Were they nesting together? Have you ever spotted a ladybird beetle larva? Take a look in your neighborhood and tell me about it at Dr.Universe@wsu.edu.

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe

Ask Dr. Universe is a science-education project from Washington State University. Submit a question of your own at askDrUniverse.wsu.edu/ask.

Slow-motion ladybug lift off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87iV4ISAY5U

More in Life

The Widow: a Review of ‘Love After Love’

The Plot: Following the death of their father, two sons deal with… Continue reading

Maple Valley Fire Chief Aaron Tyerman presented Kyle Sommer, a Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout to be, a Certificate of Appreciation Award during the Commissioners Meeting at Station 81 in Maple Valley on April 12. Photo by Kayse Angel
Local Scout recognized by Maple Valley Fire

The scout was given a Certificate of Appreciation at a Fire Commissioners Meeting that took place on April 12.

Koy Saechao, Renton resident, participates in a parkrun event along the Cedar River Trail. Courtesy photo
Local parkrun has seen success

Nearly 1,000 people have participated in this weekly, free 5K.

Espresso and other loose threads

There are major threads flying loose in the universe. I’m sure you’ve… Continue reading

Photos by Kayse Angel
Daddy Daughter Spring Fling

Daddys and daughters danced the night away on April 14.

Photo by Leah Abraham
Rain or shine, Elk Run Farm volunteers keep on digging

On April 14, the farm teamed up with Cedar Grove for a farm volunteer day to celebrate Compost Days.

“W is for Welcome: A celebration of America’s diversity”

The kid down the block looks nothing like you. His parents don’t… Continue reading

Throw the ball, see where it lands

My daughters were on spring break last week. Now that they’re adult-types,… Continue reading

An overall view of Peter Kageyama at Lake Wilderness in Maple Valley speaking to residents and city staff about why it is important to love your city. Photo by Kayse Angel
Two cities, one author and love

Peter Kageyama came to Maple Valley and Covington to do a workshop to get community members more involved with their cities, and to speak about his book, For the Love of Cities.

Most Read