It is that time of the year. Professional baseball is winding down. The leaves are turning colors and soon will be covering lawns. In a few weeks we all fall back, reversing the spring forward we did …
It is that time of the year. Professional baseball is winding down. The leaves are turning colors and soon will be covering lawns. In a few weeks we all fall back, reversing the spring forward we did months ago with our clocks. All are signs that winter is approaching.
Adding to the warning about the coming freeze, “they’re here.” Reading that phrase many of you might recall the little girl saying it in “Poltergeist” as she stares into the scrambled view on the television. But I am not talking about paranormal activity. I am referring to the yearly invasion of ladybugs!
As the temperature drops, ladybugs begin to search out places to stay warm. You wake up one morning and realize that somehow your abode has been invaded. By finding even the slightest opening, ladybugs have found a way to gain access to your residence. In our county they typically have red colored wings with seven tiny black dots. When not flying, and yes, they can get airborne, their wings are tucked into a dome shape.
Unlike telling the age of trees by counting its rings, the belief that the number of dots on a ladybug reveals its age has no validity. Both the dots and wing color are embedded in the insect’s DNA. Each type of ladybug has different visual configurations.
There is a survival of the fittest reason that ladybugs are still around. Their colorful red wings with black dots serve as a warning to predators to “stay away.” But if a ladybug feels threatened, they resort to chemical warfare. They can secrete a foul-tasting oily fluid from the joints in their six tiny legs. Their main adversaries in the food chain are birds, frogs, spiders and wasps. They also have adapted to “playing dead” to avoid being a meal.
Like many of nature’s populations, ladybugs were not native to North America. Farmers in Europe for decades used ladybugs as a natural way to control plant-eating aphids and other pests. It is estimated that a single ladybug with its many larvae will consume 5,000 insects in their lifetime. Actually, it is the developing larvae of the ladybug that devours most of the insects. They are omnivorous and will eat insects as well as fruit when hungry. Honeydew melons, nectar and plant sap are often added to their diets.
When American farmers learned of the voracious appetite of ladybugs, they imported them to control their plant-eating foragers. Organic farmers purchase ladybugs to keep their crops healthy without the use of pesticides. Many online sites offer to sell ladybugs. A container of ladybugs, holding about 1,500, can protect an area of a good-size home garden. The prices vary but you can buy 1,500 for about $20, much cheaper than insecticide. The ladybugs will stick around if their primary food source, aphids, are around. When the aphids are gone, the hungry ladybugs will go elsewhere to get their meals. Most vendors suggest eliminating aphid-eating ants prior to releasing the ladybugs.
For those who believe in talismans and superstitions, the ladybug joins the conversation. Believers are prone to say that if a ladybug lands on you, you will have a run of good luck. They even say that the number of black dots reveals how many years of good luck are awaiting you. So, those ladybugs in our area bestow seven years of good fortune.
If they indeed bring you seven years of good luck, the ladybug serves another purpose other than being an aphid killer. Most of us are familiar with the superstition about breaking a mirror. That belief, going back over 2,000 years, says that breaking a mirror gives you seven years of bad luck. So, as an antidote, if you happen to accidentally break a mirror, roll around in your Sullivan County garden until a seven-dotted ladybug lands on you…problem solved.
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