Know Your Enemy: Ladybugs (Coccinellidae)

One of the best things about my college experience so far has been my roommates. Well, the human ones, that is. Now in my third year, I have had my share of insect roommates as well. From spiders to stinkbugs to the dreaded cockroach, I thought I had seen the worst of the worst. But, oh was I in for a surprise this fall.

The ladybugs arrived alone at first. I would carefully pick them up and place them outside the window, as was my usual practice with spiders (stink bugs and cockroaches do not deserve that sign of respect…). Their solitary arrivals would not last long and a hole in our window screen would soon give way to a whole army.

A look at a hard external shell of a ladybug including one of their iconic spots.

The first day the temperature got below 55-degrees F outside, my roommate and I entered our room to find the wall covered in a swarm of at least 50 ladybugs, with even more sitting on the outside of the window screen just waiting to come in. The ladybugs had made their move; it was war. I ditched my value of nonviolence and began to smash or vacuum up any ladybug insight. Once all were seemingly removed, we closed our window, praying that our victory would last.

Up close and personal with the leg and foot – including a neat look at the joint.

Spoiler alert … it would not, and the war is ongoing to this day. Despite all our windows being closed tight, the ladybugs seem to have become permanent roommates. At any time, I am certain to find one resting somewhere in the crevice where the wall meets the ceiling. Though this is annoying when I am woken up in the middle of the night due to a ladybug landing on me, it created the perfect opportunity when I was provided a foldscope and encouraged to explore the small details of my daily life. With the foldscope, I knew I could get up close and personal with my rivals, and maybe even gain an insight into a weakness that I could exploit in battle.

Upon observing the leg and foot, I noticed that they seem to be covered in hair and have four joints in total. I imagine these characteristics are crucial for them to be able to climb on my ceiling out of my reach and jump away quickly when I do finally get close enough.

The outer edge of the wing tissue. Note the darker curved line.

I particularly found their wing tissue pattern and coloring fascinating. These tissues must be flexible enough to fold under their shell, but strong enough to propel the ladybug in flight. I would assume that the darker (orangish) areas are the places at which the wing creases when they fold them. My pictures are not the clearest, but it seems that these crease lines are also of a thicker tissue. Perhaps this helps ensure there are no tears when constantly needing to extend and collapse their wings as they fly around my room all night, out of my reach.

A look at the middle of the wing. I had no idea their wings would be so colorful.

The ladybug I captured for this foldscope observation was red, had six spots on its back, and four additional spots on its pronotum (the round part of its head). This is just one of a few kinds of ladybugs that I have become unwillingly familiar with, and just one of the thousands of species that are in the family Coccinellidae, for which ladybug is the common name. Ladybugs can be easily differentiated by their coloring and patterns, but I wonder if the same could be said for microscopic comparisons? Perhaps I can answer this tomorrow when I will almost certainly wake up to a different species resting on the wall beside my bed. Luckily though, I do not believe I have yet observed an orange Asian Ladybug. These are an invasive species, said to be rather aggressive towards humans.

Two of the early scouts for the ladybug army.

Knowing your enemy is key in a war. And I certainly am departing this foldscope experience with a deeper understanding of, and respect for, this iconic beetle (the ladybug is, in fact, not a bug). But unfortunately, no amount of studying will ever help me grow four feet taller, enabling me to be in reach of my foes.

I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. jholmes says:

    I have been enjoying all of the posts from Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton University. Some wonderful storylines. 🙂 Have you had a chance to use the iNaturalist app? It will easily help you identify your room mates. I have the sneaking suspicion that perhaps their long ago ancestors perhaps crossed the Pacific Ocean somehow… thanks for sharing your observations – Jay

  2. Jana says:

    Wow!what type of lady bug is in the picture

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