March of the Ladybugs

A couple of days ago, we released about 1,500 ladybugs into our garden. As soon as we popped the cover off, an army of cuteness invaded herbs, roses, and veggies. Some jumped right out, others flew onto nearby branches, and still more crawled stealthily down the side of the container and onto dirt.

Types of ‘Bugs
Roughly 500 kinds of ladybugs exist in the U.S. alone (that we know of), and nearly 5,000 worldwide. Their bright colors are most likely a defense mechanism, indicating to predators that they’re dangerous. Baby ‘bugs, or larvae, sometimes end up being killed by humans, because they look nothing like their parents. A larva has six legs and a long, thick, tail. They’re often black with orange spots.

Keep Them Happy
Cute? Naturally. But tough? Absolutely. Ladybugs feast on aphids (as many as 5,000 in a lifetime), tiny, sap-sucking and thus plant-damaging insects; they also enjoy eating mealybugs and spider mites. We’ve spotted the occasional moving red dot around the garden, but only recently got wise to growing plants that would attract and keep them around. Our research taught us that ladybugs like cilantro, dill, and geranium, and that pollen is another one of their necessary food sources—we now have this trio, and others, thriving throughout the yard.

Build Them a House
Ladybugs hibernate during the winter. They seek protected dens in buildings, logs, under rocks, or in other areas where many of them can snuggle up together. Giving them a home also helps keep them safe from natural predators such as ants, crows, dragonflies, mites, parasitic wasps, and swallows, among others.

Prepare Your Own Army
From what we’ve read, if it’s warm out or just to help them calm down, ladybugs should be kept in the refrigerator (not freezer!) until it’s time to set them free. Water your garden before letting them go after sunset, when they’re less active. This allows the little things to find food and water, and rest. And needless to say, especially for those of us who do things organically, don’t spray any chemicals for a good while before and after their release.

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