Are All Ladybugs Female? Is Their Name Literal?
Almost everyone loves ladybugs. We see them as tiny, colorful, and harmless insects. Gardeners love them not only because they are pretty but are also extremely helpful in protecting their flowers and vegetables.
But in fact, they are not insects; they are beetles. And they are not all pretty, little ladies. Some of them are handsome gentlemen…or gentle-beetles. That is right! Ladybugs are not all females. They can be males, too.
So, Why Are They Called Ladybugs?
If these spotted beetles are male and female, why are they called ladybugs? As the story goes, they got their name from European farmers. The farmers did not have pesticides to protect their crops from pests, so they would pray for Virgin Mary to keep their crops safe. When the ladybugs arrived and began eating the aphids and other pests, the farmers believed the bugs were an answer to their prayers and that the red shell of the lady was representative of the red cloak worn by the Virgin Mary.
The name for the beetle was linked to Mary or God but varied depending on the area. Here are some examples:
- The German name for the red beetle is “Marienkafer”, meaning “Mary’s beetle.”
- In Russia, ladybugs were called “Bozhya korovka” which means “God’s little cow,” since they had spots like those on a cow.
- The French commonly referred to the critters as “la bete a bon Dieu” or God’s animal.
- Other names associated with the spotted beetle were ladybird, ladycow, and bishop.
So, you see, the name has nothing to do with the sex of the beetle or its dainty appearance; the name is linked to the Virgin Mary.
Differences Between Male and Female Ladybugs
The lifecycle of the male and female ladybugs evolves from egg to larva, to pupa, and then to adulthood. Most times, the image of a ladybug is a little red-domed insect with black spots. When, in fact, males and females can be other colors with dots or other markings, and sometimes, they have no marks at all.
Although determining the sex can be a challenge, there are ways to do so, but they may require a microscope. For instance, the female Asian lady beetle is larger in size, and the antennae are shorter than the male beetle. The underside of the male is concave, while the female’s is flatter. The males also have more tiny hairs than the females.
Although the colors, shapes, and numbers of the spots can vary among the species, they do not help to identify the sex of the beetle if they are from the same species.
When ladybugs are mating, the male will mount the female from the rear. This is the easiest way to identify the male from the female without a microscope.
Looking at a Ladybug Under a Microscope
If you want to channel your inner entomologist (bug scientist) and examine a ladybug under a microscope, remember these important tips:
- Be careful not to harm the ladybug. Be gentle.
- Release the beetle as soon as possible.
- Since the undersides of a ladybug are black, you will want good lighting.
- To calm the ladybug, put it in the fridge (not the freezer) for about five minutes. It will calm the beetle, but it will not cause harm.
- Inspecting the underside of the ladybug is a learning experience that you are not able to see normally.
- Try to figure out if it is male or female.
- The ladybug may release a foul-smelling fluid as a defense mechanism if it is frightened. This is called reflex bleeding. Try to finish quickly and release it back to the garden.
So yes, ladybugs can be both male and female. There are some differences between the two, and identifying them can be challenging without the aid of a microscope. So, if you are curious, and want a new learning experience, carefully put one under a microscope and see if you can determine if you have a male or a female lady.