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

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!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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