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Climbing Up The Long Green Road
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Ladybirds on Jurmala beach, Latvia
File:Ladybug among ants - 2013-4-18 - Alberta Canada.webm Coccinellids are small insects, ranging from 1 to 10 mm (0.04 to 0.4 inches), and are commonly yellow, orange, or scarlet with small black spots on their wing covers, with black legs, heads and antennae. Such colour patterns vary greatly, however; for example, a minority of species, such as Vibidia duodecimguttata, a twelve-spotted species, have whitish spots on a brown background.
Basic anatomy of a ladybird
A specimen of Harmonia axyridis in South Africa, freshly out of its pupa. Its black spots will develop as its exoskeleton hardens.
In this coccinellid, the black spots are so large, they meet and leave only patches of yellow as spots. In some species, the black is so extensive as to form the background to small coloured spots. In some species, either type of pattern occurs.
Henosepilachna guttatopustulata The large leaf-eating ladybird, a herbivore and one of the largest ladybirds, feeding on a potato leaf
This yellow-shouldered ladybird (Apolinus lividigaster) feeding on an aphid has only two colour spots. Some species have none.
Many coccinellid species are mostly, or entirely, black, grey, or brown, and may be difficult for nonentomologists to recognise as coccinellids at all. Conversely, nonentomologists might easily mistake many other small beetles for coccinellids. For example, the tortoise beetles, like the ladybird beetles, look similar because they are shaped so that they can cling to a flat surface so closely that ants and many other enemies cannot grip them.
Coccinellids are found worldwide, with over 5,000 species described, more than 450 native to North America alone.
The Coccinellidae are generally considered useful insects, because many species feed on aphids or scale insects, which are pests in gardens, agricultural fields, orchards, and similar places. Within the colonies of such plant-eating pests, ladybugs will lay hundreds of eggs, and when these eggs hatch, the larvae will commence feeding immediately. However, some species do have unwelcome effects. Among these, the most prominent are the subfamily Epilachninae, which are plant eaters. Usually, Epilachninae are only mild agricultural pests, eating the leaves of grain, potatoes, beans, and various other crops, but their numbers can increase explosively in years when their natural enemies are few, such as parasitoid wasps that attack their eggs. When that happens, they can do major crop damage. They occur in practically all the major crop-producing regions of temperate and tropical countries.
Harmonia axyridis (the harlequin ladybird/bug) is an example of how an animal might be partly welcome and partly harmful. It was introduced into North America from Asia in 1916 to control aphids, but is now the most common species, outcompeting many of the native species. It has since spread to much of western Europe, reaching the UK in 2004. It has become something of a domestic and agricultural pest in some regions, and gives cause for ecological concern. It similarly has turned up in parts of Africa, where it has proved variously unwelcome, perhaps most prominently in vine-related crops.
A common myth, totally unfounded, is that the number of spots on the insect's back indicates its age. In fact, the number, shape, and placement of the spots all are determined by the species of the beetle, and are fixed by the time it emerges from its pupa. The same applies to the colour, except it may take some days for the colour of the adult beetle to mature and stabilise. Generally, the mature colour tends to be fuller and darker than the colour of the callow.
Coccinelid is derived from the Latin word coccineus meaning "scarlet". The name "ladybird" originated in Britain where the insects became known as 'Our Lady's bird or the Lady beetle. Mary (Our Lady) was often depicted wearing a red cloak in early paintings, and the spots of the seven-spot ladybird (the most common in Europe) were said to symbolise her seven joys and seven sorrows. In the United States, the name was adapted to "ladybug". Common names in other European languages have the same association, for example, the German name Marienkäfer translates to Marybeetle.
Most coccinellids have oval, dome-shaped bodies with six short legs. Depending on the species, they can have spots, stripes, or no markings at all. Seven-spotted coccinellids are red or orange with three spots on each side and one in the middle; they have a black head with white patches on each side.
Non-entomologists are prone to misidentify a wide variety of beetle species in other families as "ladybirds", i.e. coccinellids. Beetles are particularly prone to such misidentification if they are spotted in red, orange or yellow and black. Examples include the much larger scarabaeid grapevine beetles and spotted species of the Chrysomelidae, Melyridae and others. Conversely, laymen may fail to identify unmarked species of Coccinellidae as "ladybirds". Other beetles that have a defensive hemispherical shape, like that of the Coccinellidae, (for example the Cassidinae), also are often taken for ladybirds.
March 7th, 2013
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