Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: A Plague of Ladybugs

Last week, I headed out of my office in our lovely construction trailer at work to go use the restroom in the other building when I saw a ladybug fly into the trailer. A half second later, I saw another on the steps to the door. Then I looked up. The trailer was absolutely CRAWLING with ladybugs! Hundreds of them! I ran back inside and grabbed my camera and snapped photos of all the ladybugs close enough to the ground that I could reach them. In less than three minutes, I had 66 photos of ladybugs – and there were far more than that up near the top of the trailer where I couldn’t reach them. Every one of them was the same species, the invasive Asian multicolored ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis. They have a rather wide range of color and spot patterns, so I decided to make a quick collage of some of the photos I took.  These are all variations within a single species!

Ladybug collage

Ladybug collage

Impressive individual variation in this species – and my collage doesn’t even include any of the black variants! Pretty cool, and an excellent example of why counting spots shouldn’t be the only character you look for when identifying ladybugs.

I probably could have gotten more photos for my collage, but I realized after that 66th photo that I never did complete the trip to the restroom that had prompted me to leave the trailer in the first place.  By the time I got back to the trailer, I couldn’t tell which ones I’d photographed and which ones I hadn’t, so I watched them crawl around a bit more and then went back inside to finish my work.  They might be invasive, but there’s something pretty cool about seeing that many ladybugs in the same place at one time.  Totally made my day!

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

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