Leave The Ladybugs Alone.

ladybug1When I was four my parents moved into a new house. That same year they planted a maple tree in the front yard. A few years later I’d come home from school on fall afternoon to find the maple tree covered with ladybugs. Or ladybirds if you’re in Britain, although that name never made sense to me because they’re not birds. They’re not really ladies either, or at least not all of them are.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

I thought about all this when I spotted a little colony of ladybugs on my way to work. Here are some pictures.

Larva.

Larva.

Ladybug and larva.

ladybug3

Three stages: larva, pupa, and adult.

What’s fascinating is seeing almost their entire life cycle. Before I found that cluster on the tree I’d seen ladybug larvae lots of times without ever recognizing them for what they were and I’d seen their chrysalises chrysilae chrysalides I’d seen them in their pupal stage. The larvae attach their hind end to something and form a chrysalis and what’s hilarious is you can touch the chrysalis and it’ll bounce up and down like it’s yelling “Hey! Leave me alone!” And in fact that’s exactly what it’s doing.

It occurs to me that insects have a great advantage: they’re sealed inside a protective shell throughout puberty. I feel a little bit of envy over that. I know there were times when I wished I could be sealed in a protective shell until puberty was over and anybody who’s ever had or been around teenagers has wished for the same thing, but that’s another story.

Every time I see ladybugs I think of the nursery rhyme my mother taught me. She also played Peter, Paul, & Mary’s It’s Raining that includes this version of it:

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home,

Your house is on fire and your children they will burn.

According to Wikipedia this rhyme may come from a belief that “it was unlucky to kill a ladybird, and that the verse would make them fly off”. So it’s unlucky to kill one but tormenting it with the idea that its house is in flames and its children will be charred embers by the time it gets there is perfectly fine. That’s why I could never bring myself to say that to ladybugs, although I did get a kick out of Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach when the Ladybug marries the head of the New York Fire Department.

And when I found other types of beetles I did sing them a little song that went “Hummer hummer, little drummer, don’t you know/They’ll kick you out and replace you with Ringo.”

I haven’t been by my parents’ old house in a long time but thanks to Google I can find pictures of it. I thought it would make me feel old since it’s been close to a quarter of a century since I moved out, but the tree hasn’t grown all that much. Maybe it still occasionally gets covered with ladybugs in the fall.

21 Comments

  1. kdcol

    When I was living in west Texas at around 6-8 years old, we had LOTS of sand in our backyard. There were these bugs that would bury themselves in the sand and leave a little hill-shaped pile with a hole at the top. We called them doodlebugs. I have no idea if they were really doodlebugs. But anyway, you’d twirl your finger around the outside of the little sand pile saying “Doodlebug doodlebug, come out quick. Your house is on fire and your kids are sick.” Then you’d scoop your hand in and most of the time you’d come back with the little critter in your hand. So that was the version in west Texas. 🙂 And funny, just the other day I had a ladybug on the inside of my car and I had to sort of nudge it out. I always like running into ladybugs even though they sometimes will pee on your hand.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      We have doodlebugs here too, but they may be a different critter. They’re also called ant lions and they build a little pit. Ants fall in and sometimes when they try to climb back out the doodlebug will throw sand up so the ant keeps sliding back down. I used to purposely push ants into the pits. Or I’d use a magnifying glass to burn up the ants.
      I was much nicer to the ladybugs. Ants just seemed to bring out the sadist in me.

      Reply
  2. Emily

    There are different kinds of ladybugs, I hear. The orange ones BITE. The red ones don’t. The ones seeking refuge in my house as we go into colder weather are the biters.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s interesting. I’ve never known a ladybug to bite but maybe I’ve been hanging around the wrong kind. How much does it hurt? Maybe I’ve just never noticed. I seem to have a high pain threshold, especially when it’s inflicted by insects.

      Reply
  3. Pointless Boob

    Why are so many nursery rhymes filled with such terrifying imagery? “your children they will burn” ? and how ’bout that one with the three blind mice, who had their tails cut off.

    Then we wonder why kids are afraid of the dark. I’d be afraid of the dark too if someone told me a bedtime story about some crazy assed farmer’s wife running around with a carving knife. seriously … WTF?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Let’s not forget that when the bough breaks the cradle will fall and “If I should die before I wake” and don’t let the bedbugs bite and ring-around-the-rosie is from The Black Plague and Mother Goose was really a deranged clown who lured children into the sewers and ate them.
      Some of that may not be entirely accurate but the point is these were meant to teach us and also toughen us up and make us not so afraid of things. At least that’s what my therapist tells me.
      And now…clowns!

      Reply
  4. Gina

    Yeah, I’ve been seeing an influx of the ladybugs in our house too. I try to shoo them out when possible. If not, they get the vacuum treatment.
    Random piece of info: In Russian “ladybug” is “bozhya korovka” which is literally “Godlike litle cow” or “Divine little cow”. I decided to look up why but on Google translate all is says is “Lady cow” or “Lady Beetle”. At least the last one makes a TINY bit of sense. I’ll have to make a note to try to find out why in the hell the Russians would call it a Divine Cow. You work in a library. I bet you could find something. Let me know…

    Reply
    1. Gina

      OK, the answer is that “Godlike” means as in harmless. And apparently the leg joints “provide orange droplets of liquid milk” when they encounter danger.
      I found this on the internet so it must be true.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        Now I don’t need to go the library but I may anyway to see if I can find more information. This is just speculating but they do look a little cow-like and maybe they’re also “divine” because of the belief that you can make a wish on a ladybug. And they eat aphids so they’re beneficial. So they may be harmless to humans but not to aphids.

        Reply
  5. Gilly Maddison

    The soil in my parents garden must be full of something Maples like! In over 3 decades it grew really tall and has to be cut back big time every two years. Enjoyed this Lady Bug/Bird info and pics. There has been a Lady Bird on my driveway for several days now in the same place. How weird – it is November – don’t remember seeing them that late. If it is still there tomorrow I’ll assume it’s just trying to bug me by being dead.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s very strange that they seem to come out this late in the year when most other insects are burrowing in or simply dying off. Most species of butterflies and moth will pupate over the winter so they can emerge in the spring. I guess somebody’s always got to be an exception.
      If that Lady Bird in your driveway is still alive ask it if it ever worked with Benny Hill. His backup singers on “Ernie, Fastest Milkman In The West” were The Ladybirds.

      Reply
      1. Gilly Maddison

        Just went out to look and of course it has gone. I doubt it went under its own steam as it was a bit dead. Probably blown away by the wind or swept into a crack by yesterday’s incessant rain. Ha ha Benny Hill – that’s a blast from the past – you just told me something I didn’t know – I had no idea his backing singers on Ernie were the Ladybirds. May come in handy at the next charity quiz night I attend in some crumbling village hall where I will get all the answers wrong and smile as I recall the much livelier Saturday nights of my youth immersed in a cloud of hash smoke and wild dancing. Yes I know the two don’t go together but that was how it was. 🙂

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          It sounds like your youth was pretty interesting. And I hope any information I’ve shared can help you in the charity quiz nights. I just remember buying raffle tickets in the pubs and winning a pint of lager or maybe a pack of cigarettes. Somehow the charity raffles only seemed to come around when there were three or four of us in the pub so it was hard not to win.

          Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    I’m happy to leave most bugs alone because I think that’s to our mutual advantage. However, I can’t seem to leave your posts alone.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I think the bugs are just as happy as I am that you keep coming here instead of bugging them.

      Reply
  7. Library Heather

    Lovely, funny, well-written post. I adore ladybugs (although in larval form they look too much like fuzzy caterpillars). I neither kill them nor torment them with nursery rhymes. I get the rare one inside my house, but not the bitey kind.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I never get the bitey kind either and now it disturbs me to think there is a bitey kind. But when I was a kid the larvae scared me until I discovered what they were. They’re still a little disturbing to me.

      Reply
  8. Shawna

    I had no idea that nursery rhyme ever existed and now that makes sense about the fire captain in James and the Giant Peach! I love finding new things out about anything related to Roald Dahl. I kind of have an unhealthy obsession with him.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      There’s nothing wrong with having an unhealthy obsession with Dahl’s books because they’re hilarious and brilliant. Just don’t get an unhealthy obsession with Dahl himself. For one thing he really wasn’t a nice person. For another he’s dead.

      Reply
  9. Sandra

    So many good (and giggle worthy points in this post: love the comment about it being acceptable to torment the ladybugs with death by flames) but what hit the closest to home for me was the comforting thought that we should be protected by a hard shell until after puberty. I actually hiccupped back a few tears at that. So interesting how our adolescence follows us until death (sorry, feeling particularly vulnerable today). Your imagery is flawless as per usual my friend. I’m so glad that I have a few more of your posts to go through in my inbox. It’s like Christmas when I see that you’ve written something and have kindly allowed us to be privy to your thoughts and words.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It does feel like we never get over adolescence. Some people say they grow into mature adults and get over that teenage awkwardness, but I think they’re lying.

      Reply

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