Garden Myth: You Can Tell a Ladybug’s Age by Its Spots

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20180428A Harmonia_axyridis, Hedwig Storch, WC.jpg

All these ladybugs, despite their varying colors and spots, belong to just one species: the Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis). The number of spots has no relationship to their age. Source: Hedwig Storch, Wikipedia Commons

Decidedly, garden myths are numerous and persistent. One I first heard in my childhood and that still keeps coming up is that the number of spots on the back (actually, the elytra or wing case) of a ladybug (ladybird) indicates its age. Sorry, but tain’t true!

Most ladybugs live about a year, rarely two or three. Never 22 years (the maximum number of points found on their elytra).

On the other hand, the number of spots can help identify the species, because most have a specific number of them. For example, Coccinella septempuctata bears seven points while Coccinella novemnotata has nine of them. On the other hand, in the vast ladybug family, with some 5,000 species, there are bound to be exceptions. For example, there are species that have no spots at all, others that are striped, and others where the number of spots varies. The well-known Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis), for example, well established now over much of the world, can have from 0 to 22 spots.

Most ladybugs have red, orange or yellow elytra with black spots or black elytra with red, orange or yellow spots. These bright colors serve as a warning to potential predators, sort of saying “don’t mess with me!”, because ladybugs have a bitter taste and indeed most are somewhat toxic.

But the spots, no matter their number, never indicate the ladybug’s age!

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