Many people are fond of ladybugs because of their colorful, spotted appearance. But farmers love them for their appetite. Most ladybugs voraciously consume plant-eating insects, such as aphids, and in doing so they help to protect crops. Ladybugs lay hundreds of eggs in the colonies of aphids and other plant-eating pests. When they hatch, the ladybug larvae immediately begin to feed.

Ladybugs are also called lady beetles or, in Europe, ladybird beetles. They are commonly yellow, orange, or scarlet with small black spots on their wing covers, with black legs, heads and antennae. Such color patterns vary greatly, however; for example, a minority of species, such as Vibidia duodecimguttata, a twelve-spotted species, have whitish spots on a brown background.  Coccinellids are found worldwide, with over 5,000 species described,more than 450 native to North America alone, and not all of them have the same appetites. A few ladybugs prey not on plant-eaters but on plants. The Mexican bean beetle and the squash beetle are destructive pests that prey upon the crops mentioned in their names.

Ladybugs appear as half-spheres, tiny, spotted, round or oval-shaped domes. They have short legs and antennae.

Their distinctive spots and attractive colors are meant to make them unappealing to predators. Ladybugs can secrete a fluid from joints in their legs which gives them a foul taste. Their coloring is likely a reminder to any animals that have tried to eat their kind before: "I taste awful." A threatened ladybug may both play dead and secrete the unappetizing substance to protect itself.

AuthorMariana Harmon