Ladies of spring

The light switch of spring has been thrown.  One day it was cool, and the next it was warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt.  There it has remained, warming the earth and inspiring an explosion of life.

A veritable smorgasbord of insects and arachnids has appeared.  Flies buzz, wasps and bees flit about, beetles emerge, spiders spin and leap and dash, and where just a few weeks ago the days passed with scarcely a single small critter to enjoy, now it’s difficult to know which one to focus on.

But winter’s dearth always gives way to spring’s bounty, something that plants and insects demonstrate with great passion.  And often one of the first things to appear in abundance is the lady beetle.

Ashy gray lady beetle (a.k.a. ash gray lady beetle; Olla v-nigrum) hiding between slats in a fence (20080509_05119)

Standing on the patio the other evening, only a few moments before sunset, a small beetle rushed along the patio fence.  I ran inside, grabbed the camera, then returned to snap a picture or two.  By that time the little lady had scampered between the slats where it no doubt wanted to grab some rest for the night.

So I was mocked by this ashy gray lady beetle (a.k.a. ash gray lady beetle; Olla v-nigrum) who showed me nothing but buttocks.  I stood patiently hoping the hideout was temporary, but alas the insect nodded off to sleep and stayed put, so a gray moon was all I had to show for the encounter.

Seven-spotted ladybug (a.k.a. seven-spotted ladybird; Coccinella septempunctata) larva on a dead leaf (2009_03_07_012263)

Finding this seven-spotted ladybug (a.k.a. seven-spotted ladybird; Coccinella septempunctata) larva came as no surprise.  These beetles start mating and multiplying the moment it’s warm enough outside.

(No, it’s not missing any legs.  The one good photo I took happened to have one leg curled underneath the larva as it changed direction.)

Seven-spotted ladybug (a.k.a. seven-spotted ladybird; Coccinella septempunctata) atop a dandelion (2009_03_21_013740)

And an adult seven-spotted ladybug (a.k.a. seven-spotted ladybird; Coccinella septempunctata) soaking up sunshine atop a dandelion.  Days may be warm, but nights are still cool enough to require a recharge of heat each morning.  Though that’s changing quickly as quite soon nights will be comfortable and days will be unbearably hot.

Multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) mating on a leaf (2009_10_03_030454)

As these two multicolored Asian lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) show, the season is never too early for making babies.  If it’s warm enough to move about, it’s warm enough to mate and multiply.

Multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) running along a fence (2010_03_05_050285)

This multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) landed on my shirt as I stood on the patio enjoying warm sunshine one afternoon.  It’s unwise for anything small to enter the house since The Kids take seriously their duty to hunt down and dispatch invaders.  So I plucked the little beetle from my shirt in order to place it on the patio fence.

Then, for the first time in my 40 years, a lady beetle bit me.  The ungrateful invader apparently found the relocation disagreeable and decided to nibble on me as repayment for the move.  The experience was interesting but not painful.  The biggest shock was that it took four decades to experience it given how much time I spend in nature and how often I have run-ins with fauna.

Despite the transgression, I put the beetle on the fence with gentle care so it could go on with its day.  Though I did scold it briefly and warn it that others might not be so forgiving.

Convergent ladybird beetle (a.k.a. convergent lady beetle or convergent ladybug; Hippodamia convergens) resting on a concrete pillar (20080412_03238)

Walking across the bridge over Dixon Branch, a spark of color on the concrete railing gave me a moment of pause.  This convergent ladybird beetle (a.k.a. convergent lady beetle or convergent ladybug; Hippodamia convergens) faced into the rising sun to gather warmth.

The number of lady beetle species at White Rock Lake is high, but unfortunately a great many of the numerous examples are from introduced species.  Finding endemics like the ashy gray or the convergent tends to be like finding a needle in a stack of needles.  Nevertheless, they can be found if one looks carefully enough.

18 thoughts on “Ladies of spring”

  1. Great buggers! Ha! I got bit last year by one and found it pretty amusing. Just never thought they’d actually do that I guess? I had a ladybug friend who lived in my old little guest house in NC, on an old wine bottle with some flowers stuck in it. She was there for weeks. We had lovely chats. Anyway, these pictures are wonderful- I love the dandelion one and the last one. Looks like it’s walking on little glass beads, really pretty texture shot with the beetle! (ohh, I emailed the muscovy story to you, did it go thru?)

    1. Thank you, Jill!

      I’d heard other people say they’d been bitten, but it had never happened to me. I sort of thought of it as an urban legend. When this one started nibbling on me, it took me a few seconds to realize what was happening–then I laughed. Not painful at all; just an odd sensation, especially because it took so long for it to happen.

      (And yes, I did get your e-mail. My spam filter has been acting up–swallowing up a lot more than usual–so your message first vanished into that black hole. I finally went through the pile and pulled everything out that was worth salvaging, so I’ll respond to your message.)

  2. I never know which ladybugs are native when I see them, and I only learned this last year that there are so many different species!

    It bit you!? I wonder if other beetles will bite you? My friend always claims that june bugs bite, and I always laugh – because of course they don’t bite. Do they?

    1. When I was young, Amber, I thought lady beetles were identified by the number of spots. Boy did I have a lot to learn!

      Yes, the little critter bit me. No surprise since they’re predators and it’s no doubt a defense they use. It’s not painful, though, at least as far as I’m concerned. Just a tiny little pinch.

      I’ve also heard June beetles are known to bite. That’s a rumor I tend not to believe. I think most people say they bite when in fact it’s their claws trying to hold on that might feel like a small bite. Given their size, that makes a lot more sense to me. But I could be wrong.

      1. Um…when it comes to June beetles, “bite” is an understatement. Just look at ’em. They’re obviously flesh-tearing manglers. I know lots of people* – those whom have lived through the encounter, anyway – who have required extensive skin grafts post-attack.
        *okay, okay, imaginary friends

        1. Hysterical, AJ! I believe as a child I had imaginary friends who suffered terrible fates of one kind or another, but I don’t believe any succumbed to the mandibles of June beetles. Crickets, yes, but not June beetles.

  3. I love the first rush of spring. Your photos capture the buggy aspect of that very well. My favorite photo is the one of the beetle bottom in the slats.

    It makes me feel better to know there’s someone else out there who talks to small bugs (even if it’s to scold) them. I do that a lot.

    1. Thank you, Liz! And no, you’re not the only one who talks to insects. For that matter, I’m not above chatting with anything I see. I’m quite sure I could be labeled certifiable if anyone listened to me for very long.

  4. Oh, the lovely ladybug larva!

    One of my students found one alive in her school-cafeteria salad. She was most upset. “Would it help,” I asked “to know the larva is from a cute little ladybug?”

    “No.”

    “Oh.”

  5. I actually did get bitten by a June bug when I was a kid–definitely mouthparts pinching. It was startling and uncomfortable, but did no damage.

    In all my childhood playing in backyards in the White Rock area, I never did see an ashy gray…never knew they existed, or that ladies could be anything but red, black, or gold.

    1. Well, there you go. I stand corrected on June beetles biting. Their size makes it conceivable, though I’m left to wonder if it’s a defense or a mistake (time for research). So thank you, Nena! Now I’ve learned something.

      And I’m with you on the colors. The ashy gray was an eye opener for me (I’d never seen one before).

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