The truth about ladybugs and what they eat

The truth about ladybugs and what they eat

Updated on July 15, 2024

There’s no doubt that ladybugs are lovely to behold. With their enchanting spots and bright and circular frames, they are easy on the eyes.

Interestingly, these same characteristics—their spots and colors—serve a purpose: they make ladybugs seem unappealing to predators. Often, this defense mechanism is effective. Did you know that they can also secrete a fluid from their hind legs? It’s quite troublesome to think of—these charming little creatures splashing you with a foul-tasting yellowish hind fluid (which is actually their blood).

I once worked with a scientist who had studied the mannerisms of ladybugs and the intricate way in which they fold their delicate, paper-thin wings. Listening to him, I was reminded of when I made winsome origami animals as a child. I would sit cross-legged in a corner of sunlight on the creaky hard oak window bench in our vast library. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the soft green foliage of the apple trees sway as a gentle wind tousled their leaves, though I paid them no heed, rather concentrating on the task set before me. My mother would have turned the volume down on the classical concerto of Mozart, the sounds of a Minuet and Trio in G major fading in the background. My dog would be lazily napping in the corner of the room, a pool of drool forming beneath his soft brown snout.

What are four facts about ladybugs we should all know?

  1. Gardens need ladybugs. Ladybugs are voracious aphid eaters, eating up to 50 aphids a day and 5,000 in their lifetime. If you have plants in your garden, regardless of whether they’re fruit-bearing, vine-grown, leafy, weedy or underground, it’s good to have a loveliness of ladybugs near, as aphids are attracted to a large variation of plants (and even some herbs) and can cause great damage to your garden.

  2. Orange ladybugs are poisonous. Orange ladybugs, which are mostly Asian lady beetles, tend to have the most toxins in their bodies and may, therefore, be the most allergenic to humans. 

  3. Ladybugs pinch and nip. Ladybugs will scratch your skin with their mandibles and pinch your arm with their back legs.

  4. The harlequin ladybug will overwinter in your home. These ladybugs, also known as Asian lady beetles, are not native to the United States. They are accustomed to a warmer climate and prefer, when the weather cools, to nest indoors.

What do ladybugs eat? 

Ladybugs, as mentioned above, can eat an absurd amount of aphids in their lifetime. These crusty little golden brown insects don’t really go anywhere when a ladybug comes their way, so they make an incredibly easy and satisfying meal.

There are over 5,000 species of ladybugs and their diets, like them, are diverse. Ladybugs can be classified as herbivores, carnivores or omnivores. 

Herbivorous ladybugs

Ladybugs that are herbivores—such as the squash lady beetle—with 14 black spots on its back will eat:

  • Leaves
  • Fruits
  • Seeds
  • Lettuce 
  • Fungi
  • Mildew
  • Nectar
  • Pollen
  • Honeydew
  • Plant sap

Carnivorous ladybugs

Ladybugs that are carnivorous, such as the seven-spotted ladybird—which is the most commonly spotted ladybird around Europe—the harlequin (or Asian) ladybug, the two-spotted ladybug and the pink ladybug, will eat:

  • Aphids
  • Scales
  • Mealybugs
  • Leafhoppers
  • Mites
  • Plants (some species)
  • Insect eggs
  • Other ladybugs

Omnivorous ladybugs

Ladybugs that are omnivores, such as the sixteen-spotted ladybug, will eat all of the above. Around 90% of the ladybugs that you’ll encounter are omnivores.

Why are ladybugs (and Dr. Killigan’s) good for your garden?

bulb duster for diatomaceous earth

Because most ladybugs are voracious consumers of aphids, they’re excellent for your garden, not only eliminating pesky garden-harming insects, but also acting as stately pest control agents. They also keep you from having to purchase harmful pesticides, which would cause harm to not only your plants and other beneficial insects, but also you (if you’re going to be consuming these plants).

For my full line of pesticide-free, poison-free and toxic-free line of pest control products, please see my shop. In particular, I recommend the Insect Buster Bulb Duster, along with Dust to Dust Plant-Powered Insect Powder. Dust to Dust is a superb alternative to diatomaceous earth and offers effective pest control by dehydrating insects through its fine silica particles. It’s safe for your garden and does not harm plants. Use it to maintain a healthy garden environment without the need for harsh chemicals.

How long is a ladybug’s life cycle?

The life cycle (from egg to mature adult) of a ladybug spans only four to eight weeks. Female ladybugs lay numerous eggs near aphid colonies. Within about a week, these eggs hatch, and the ravenous larvae immediately begin feeding on aphids. The larvae then undergo a remarkable transformation, directed by special cells called histoblasts, and soon become adults—ready to lift their elytra, unfold their wings and take off to conquer the world (or eat more aphids).

How long do ladybugs live?

Adult ladybugs will live to celebrate their first birthday, though probably not their second. They hatch, eat, grow, eat some more, breed, continue to eat and then die. The female ladybugs will lay around 10-15 eggs at a time, though this average may range from five to 50. She does this multiple times throughout the season, laying up to as many as 1,000 eggs before her lifespan comes to a close and she lays down for her eternal rest.

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