Most definitely friend!! Though this bizarre looking creature may give you the heebie-jeebies just looking at it, you will want to welcome them with open arms. You are looking at the juvenile stage of everyone’s favorite aphid-eater: the ladybug!
Ladybugs (or “lady birds” if you live in Europe) are often thought of as a harbinger of good luck, and for good reason. They are voracious eaters of many of your garden’s worst enemies. Their appearance in spring has earned them the name πασχαλίτσα (paschalitsa, pronounced pah-skah-LEE-tsa) in Greek. The “pascha” part of the word goes back to the roots of the word “Passover” from Jewish tradition, but is also the name given for “Easter” in the Greek Orthodox faith. The “litsa” ending is a diminutive in Greek, like the name Johnny instead of John. So the word paschalitsa loosely translates into “little Easters”, and there you go!
Though the juveniles may not look like their cute, adult stage, they are just as helpful. Aphids, mealy bugs, white flies, etc. are all on a ladybug’s menu. In fact, a single adult ladybug can eat upwards of 50-60 aphids a day! The juvenile larvae eat a little fewer than that, but are no less helpful in controlling these pests.
If you don’t seem to attract many ladybugs to your yard but need their help, you may want to consider purchasing some (try to find native ladybugs, rather than imported Asian ones). Even when you follow all the directions perfectly (see tips below), don’t expect these little jewels to stick around for long. That’s okay. If you have food and habitat (think lots of different kinds of flowers in a pesticide free garden), they will lay their eggs and soon you will see those funky larvae crawling around. Eventually you will have a returning population of ladybugs every year coming to visit, eat, and stay a while. Kind of like Greeks!
Tips for establishing ladybugs in your yard:
- Be prepared for the fact that not all of them will be alive if you purchase them.
- Anticipate purchasing some a couple of years in a row in order to establish a local population that will come back each year. We released them in our yard 2 or 3 times, and now we don’t have to anymore!
- Plan ahead and get your ladybugs in spring before it is too hot, but after risk of frost has passed. This will be when there is food for them, as well as a safe opportunity for travel to you. It’s not too late in fall, either, and they will lay eggs for the spring.
- Once you receive your “babies”, mist them lightly with water and then put them into your refrigerator. The cold temperatures slows down their metabolism so they will survive longer before going into your yard.
- Water the areas of your garden you want the ladybugs to go into, making sure to wet the plants themselves, shortly before you plan to release your bugs. This gives your ladybugs needed water and encourages them to crawl on your plants and stay.
- Do not release them during the day! For sure they will fly away and leave you. Instead, they should be released straight from the refrigerator when the sun is set and it is almost dark. Ladybugs don’t fly at night.
- Sprinkle your bugs around the plants you want them to focus on. Do this quickly but gently, as they will start to warm up and crawl all over you before you know it. They are cute, but it is a little weird to have dozens of them on your hands!
- You will see most of them the next day, but many will fly away. Don’t worry! They will breed quickly and start laying eggs before they go. The offspring will then start eating your bugs and will stay around as adults.