Ladybugs, also known as lady beetles, are one of the most widely recognized and well-loved insects by gardeners and non-gardeners alike. But, before ladybugs develop into adults with a bright red shiny body and black dots, they undergo a larval stage. During that time they look like tiny black alligators—and outright scary.
Don’t let this fool you—the larvae of ladybugs don’t bite or sting. They are harmless to humans, yet highly valuable beneficial insects that feed on garden pests. Instead of trying to get rid of them, you should make them feel at home in your garden, as the more, the merrier.
Rest assured, within a few weeks, the ladybug larvae will turn into the pretty adult ladybugs you know.
What Do Ladybug Larvae Look Like?
The ladybug larva is about 1/2 inch in length, with an elongated, spiny body. It is black with red, orange, or white markings. The larvae spend several weeks eating pest insects until they eventually pupate and emerge as adults.
Lady beetles overwinter as adults in dry, protected areas such as tree bark, house shingles, or even indoors in attics. They come out from cover in early spring and begin feeding and laying eggs right away. One female lady beetle can lay up to 1,000 eggs over a three-month period. When the young lady beetles emerge from the eggs as larvae, they begin feeding immediately.
What Is a Nymph?
Although the immature stage of the ladybug is sometimes referred to as a nymph, that term is a misnomer. A nymph is an immature insect that goes through simple metamorphosis and its appearance is similar to the adult—which is certainly not the case for the ladybug nymph.
Click Play to Learn How to Identify Ladybug Larvae
Ladybug Larvae Favorite Foods
Ladybug larvae are voracious. One larva will eat about 400 aphids in the three weeks before it pupates. While ladybugs' favorite food seems to be aphids, they also will prey on soft scale, whitefly pupa, thrips, and spider mites if no aphids are available.
Besides other insects, lady beetles also feed on pollen. Plant some of their favorite flowers to attract them to your garden. These include angelica, calendula, coreopsis, cosmos, dill, chives, marigold, sweet alyssum, and yarrow.
How to Protect Ladybug Larvae
If your garden does not offer sufficient food for the voracious ladybug larvae to feed on, the adults will move elsewhere in search of better feeding grounds. There, they will eventually lay their eggs ( seven-spotted lady beetles can have up to 5 generations per year) and overwinter. The larvae cannot yet fly, so they will stick around and feed on what they can until they pupate.
To keep ladybugs happy, plant their favorite food sources and do not use insecticides. Not only will you kill lady beetles directly, but you also kill the garden pests that serve them as food sources.
Lady beetles also need a source of water. This does not have to be a water garden or fountain; a shallow saucer of water is sufficient. Make sure you change the water often, or you will attract mosquitoes looking for a place to lay their eggs.
You can also purchase ladybugs from a company specializing in shipping beneficial insects (sometimes seed companies also sell them). Usually, these companies offer species that are native to the American continent, such as the convergent lady beetle (Hippodamia convergens). Buying ladybugs does not relieve you of creating favorable conditions to retain them in your garden, it’s just a way to boost the ladybug population as fast as possible.
Lady Beetles. Colorado State Extension.
Sevenspotted Lady Beetle. University of California.