Lady bugs have sideways-facing jaws like tiny steel traps. They use these powerful jaws to devour hundreds of aphids every day. Aphids are a terrible garden-destroying pest, and a single lady bug can eat more than 5,000 aphids in her lifetime.
Lady bugs lay their eggs in yellow clusters on the undersides of leaves. When the eggs hatch, the babies look nothing like lady bugs, but more like tiny black and orange alligators that scurry across the leaves. These voracious larval lady bugs eat their full weight in aphids every single day as they grow into adults.
When threatened, lady bugs emit a foul-smelling fluid from their leg joints. This toxic secretion, called hemolymph, repels predators. The fiery colors and bright spots on a lady bug’s back are nature’s way of warning enemies that lady bugs are bad to eat. Even the eggs and larva of lady bugs are poisonous to predators.
Typically, the only thing that kills lady bugs is chemical pesticides, which can’t distinguish between good bugs and bad. Unfortunately, pesticides kill lady bugs in their adult as well as their egg and larval stages, so one spray could destroy all the current and potential lady bugs in the garden.
Aphids, on the other hand, are more pesticide-resistant, and aphids reproduce a new generation every week. Without lady bugs to control them, aphids can quickly do enormous damage to your vegetables.
To bring lady bugs to your garden, you can order them over the internet. An insectary will ship a package of living adult lady bugs to your mailbox. Release a few of these lady bugs into the garden each evening at dusk, and store the rest in the refrigerator. If you release the lady bugs all at once, they will swarm into the air and fly straight back to the insectary where they were born, like homing pigeons.
Before releasing them each evening, water your garden and spray a little liquid molasses onto the leaves. This sugary energy will help your lady bugs get started. Re-seed lady bugs into the garden several times until a native population establishes itself.
Lady bugs love the nectar of flowers, and they especially need nectar when laying eggs. Plant flowers generously among your vegetables: Queen Anne’s lace, nasturtiums, cosmos, marigolds, and sunflowers. Plant basil, dill, and cilantro between your vegetables, and let them go to flower. Lady bugs especially love the flowers of bean and pea plants.
Lady bugs are adorable, but they are also voracious predators. They sweetly go about their business of devouring your garden pests. Lady bugs have a well-earned reputation as the gardener’s good friend, and they are nature’s most charming pesticide.
Justin Butts is a local business owner and farmer.