By Kathy Brown, Apprentice Master Gardener, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County
Ladybugs are those cute little red bugs with the black spots, right?
Yes, except when they are in another stage of their development.
In the larval stage, they look like tiny bugs from Mars. With yellow-orange flecks and a shape that resembles a small armored war bug, you wouldn't guess they were a ladybug's offspring. Perhaps you've seen them in your garden and thought they were invading your roses. You wanted to grab the spray can and rid the world of these "space pests."
Don't touch that spray can! Those strange little creatures are even more valuable to your garden than their parents.
Another good bug whose larvae are completely different from their mother is the green lacewing. It's a light green color with transparent veined wings. This delicate beauty feeds on nectar. As with the ladybug, lacewing larvae also look ready for battle, with two ugly pincer-like jaws coming from the front of their heads. They don't look at all like the fragile adult.
The lifecycle of ladybugs and lacewings begins as eggs. The eggs of the ladybug are yellow-orange; they take about five days to hatch. Lacewing eggs hatch in about a week. Both insects lay eggs several times during the summer. The eggs then hatch into the exotic larvae, constantly feeding until they pupate and become their more attractive, mature selves. Ladybug larvae feed primarily on aphids, and lacewing larvae feed on caterpillars, beetles and other insects as well as aphids.
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension entomologist, likens ladybug larvae to teenagers: Enough said! The same goes for lacewings. These voracious 'teenagers' eat hundreds of aphids and other insects that cause plant damage. The pupal stage of both insects is just as interesting-looking as their larval aspect. The pupate, however, hibernate until they emerge as adults. You can't see what's going on inside their shell, and they aren't eating any of those bad insects.
So if you happen to see either bug, just let them be. Soon, they'll be pretty red and black-spotted ladybugs and ethereal lacewings cruising around your garden, eating the pesky bugs and laying more 'good bug' eggs. Lots of other bugs in your garden take on different forms in their various life stages - eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults.
So, before you reach for the pesticide, find out if your bug is just an odd-looking good bug, in one of its other lifecycle phases.
Photos: Judy Sedbrook
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010