Friday 5: Capitol Ladybugs

Last Friday I shared my experience at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s butterfly house with you all.  After a delightful end-of-the-day 45 minute session in the NMNH 3D IMAX theater, where we were able to both sit down long enough to rest our very tired legs and watch the movie Flight of the Butterflies about the monarch migration, we were quickly shuffled outside by the guards who were eager to close down the building for the night.  On the way back toward the Metro station, we walked through the Smithsonian’s pollinator garden.  I didn’t see very many butterflies, flies, or bees, but I did see some beetles.  In particular, I saw one type of beetle: ladybugs.  There were ladybugs everywhere!  And there weren’t the kind of ladybugs I was hoping to see either.  There were all Asian multicolored ladybeetles, Harmonia axyridis, an invasive species that was imported from (big surprise) Asia.  In case you missed it, these ladybugs have been featured heavily in the news recently, thanks to a report in Science that suggests that H. axyridis carries a pathogen that actively kills other ladybugs in areas where they become established.  The study looked especially at how the Asian multicolors could quickly kill the seven spot ladybug (Cocinella septempunctata), which I think is interesting largely because the seven spots and Asian multicolors are far and away the most abundant ladybug species I’ve seen in the Triangle Area in North Carolina.  It will be interesting to see if Harmonia will eventually become the dominant non-native species in the area over time if they really are capable of killing their seven spotted relatives.

But back to those Asian multicolors in D.C.!  I took several photos of adult beetles (and I’ll just warn you now: my eyes were completely worn out by the time I took there, so they’re all just slightly out of focus), which I intend to submit to the Lost Ladybug Project over the next few days so I can document my finds.  This one has a lot of big, bold spots:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetles get this particular common name (they’ve got others) from their enormous variation in colors and patterns.  You can’t simply rely on spots or colors to indicate that they’re H. axyridis.  See, this one is the same species:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Completely different spot patterns.  Still, there are similarities between these two individuals, especially their very round shapes and the pattern on the front of the thorax.  Not all Asian multicolors have this pattern, but these two individuals had something very similar to this:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle adult (Harmonia axyridis)

If you see a pattern and shape like that, you’re most likely looking at an Asian multicolor.  And did you happen to notice the tasty ladybug snacks lurking on the leaves at the right of the image?  That’s practically a ladybug buffet!

I found three of the four life stages all mixed together on the same plants.  You’ve seen the adults, but now I give you a larva:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle larva (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle larva (Harmonia axyridis)

When I do my ladybug hunts at work, it is really fun to see the look on the faces of the participants when I hold up the first ladybug larva I find.  By and large my attendees are absolutely shocked that an immature ladybug looks nothing like an adult.  And how cool are ladybug larvae?  They look like bizarre aliens from another world, though perhaps not so much so as the pupae:

Asian multicolored ladybeetle pupa (Harmonia axyridis)

Asian multicolored ladybeetle pupa (Harmonia axyridis)

Now that is one strange looking animal.  Look at all those crazy spikes at the base!  And apparently, a little plague carrying ladybug will eventually crawl out of that pupa and wreak havoc on the local ladybug species…

While it makes total sense that I would find an invasive ladybug species in the heart of an incredibly urbanized area, I was disappointed to see nothing but Harmonia axyridis in the Smithsonian pollinator garden.  I’m sure I am far from the most patriotic person in the U.S., but when you’re in D.C. and on the Mall and taking in the spectacle of all that pure, unadulterated Americaness, it somehow  seems wrong to look at the plants in the garden and see nothing but imported ladybug species.  I wanted some good ol’ ‘Merican ladybugs, gosh darn it!  It makes me a little sad to think that out of the 400 or so ladybugs I’ve photographed over the last few months, I’ve gotten photos of 5 native ladybugs. FIVE!  That’s just terrible.  And those ladybugs up there, cute and aphid-hungry as they are, might be one source of all that terribleness.

And just so I’m not ending this post on a total downer, next Friday I’m bringing you back to North Carolina, where the holly bushes have been blooming.  The insects on the holly flowers: spectacular.  Look for some examples next week!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

6 thoughts on “Friday 5: Capitol Ladybugs

    • Yeah, they’re a big problem in a lot of places. The really awful thing is we intentionally imported them into many locations where they’re causing trouble, thinking we were doing something great by releasing ladybugs to control garden pests rather than using pesticides. I have started telling people that using ladybugs in their gardens is fine, but they really need to pay close attention to the species they’re buying and should not buy ladybugs from any source that can’t tell them exactly which species they’re selling. Hope some of them will actually follow my advice!

  1. not sure if the ladybug eggs and instars i photographed in my yard this are are the native or asian variety. i will pay close attention next time i’m in the garden, but i have a sneaky suspicion i’m going to be disappointed with the answer… great post and fascinating article; “Phenomena:
    Not Exactly Rocket Science”.

    • You may be disappointed, but you never know! We do occasionally find natives lurking out in the prairie grasses, in spite of all the non-natives out there. Maybe a few natives made their way into your garden too!

  2. The insects on our hollies are scale! Ick and double ick. When I watered the tomatoes today, I flushed out a hummingbird moth. Now that will mean tomato hornworms. I wouldn’t mind them if they didn’t destroy the plant so badly.

    Thanks for the primer on ladybugs. The larvae and pupa were not at all what I expected to see.

    • Too bad about your scale infestation! That’s not good. Our hollies are just plastered with pollinators most of the time, though very recently the flowers have started wilting and falling off. Those pollinators will all be moving on soon. And you’re welcome for the ladybug primer! Glad I could show you something new.

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