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desert gardening basics
January, 2014, Page 126
These voracious eaters are a gardener’s best friend
Known as lady beetles, lady bugs or even lady birds, these delicate-looking winged creatures are actually voracious predators, feeding on aphids and other soft-bodied pests. Their common names date back to the Middle Ages, when aphids were destroying crops in Europe. Farmers supposedly prayed to “Our Lady” for relief; “Our Lady’s Beetles” flew in to save the day, and the name stuck.
More than 500 lady beetle species exist in the U.S., in varied colors with and without spots or markings. Convergent lady beetle (
) is commonly found in Arizona’s low desert and around the Southwest. The accompanying photos will help you recognize the beetle’s four life stages, so you don’t inadvertently destroy these natural pest-control agents.
- The adult lady beetle lays a cluster of small, elongated yellowish-orange eggs—like tiny footballs set on end—near aphids. When larvae hatch, they begin feeding on the aphids.
- Usually black and orange, larvae are about 1/16 to 3/8 of an inch long. The bristled body is wide in the middle, tapering to a point at the end, perhaps resembling a teensy alligator.
- After a larva feasts on aphids, it is ready to pupate. The pupal stage is roundish, also black and orange, and may be found attached to plant matter.
- The pupa transforms into the recognizable lady bug, completing the life cycle.
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