Jul. 22, 2011

Science Dad on Ladybugs

by Vince Harriman

Click to enlarge images

Beckett's fascination with tiny creatures continues -- and his Science Grandma pitched in and gave him a ladybug habitat filled with Ladybug larva. It is a great way to learn about the ladybug's life cycle. Like many insects, Lady bugs (also called lady birds, lady clocks, lady flies, and lady cows) go through four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and imago. Ladybugs also have some unique variations in the larva stage, known as instars, as they grow and change with every molt and shed.

To begin, Beckett unwrapped and cleaned his habitat and added a couple of drops of water to the sponge in the middle. A couple of days later the larvae arrived in a mailing tube and Beckett carefully shook them into the habitat. The larvae came complete with all the food they need, and indeed, they came out hungry and eating. Ladybugs are great insects to have in the yard -- they eat tiny destructive insects such as aphids.

Beckett's Ladybug habitat

The first thing Beckett noticed was the incredible variations in size -- the smallest larva were no bigger than a pin head and the largest were almost the size of a small but full grown ladybug. The top of the habitat has a built in magnifying glass, and Beckett was able to see differences in the larvae almost immediately.

Larval Ladybugs. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Ladybug larva don't look anything like ladybugs, though they already have some of the distinctive color that makes them so popular and easy to identify. As they progress through their life cycle, they gain more of the characteristics that we associate with ladybugs. After another molt or two, they have a more orange or reddish color:

Several molts later, the color begins to emerge. Image courtesy wikipedia.

When the larvae finally begin to pupate, they look almost like their adult forms:

Lady bug in pupal stage. Image courtesy Marc van Hoorn

Beckett has been attempting to capture and raise insects for a long time, usually with less than stellar results. Today, for example, I found a beautiful large caterpillar with fuzzy pale green fur that I brought home in a cup. Before I could show it to Beckett and add it to a habitat, however, the caterpillar managed to crawl out of the cup and disappeared somewhere in the kitchen. Don't tell Science Mom, because she has strict rules about insects staying outside. I'm hoping one day soon we'll see a nice large butterfly fluttering around the house!

As soon as we have adult ladybugs we'll post some pictures. Until then, see if you can find some larval or pupal form lady bugs out in your yard. I have never seen one myself, but now that I know what they look like, you can bet Beckett Rowan and I will be searching the yard for them!

About Vince Harriman

Science Dad, AKA Vince Harriman, is a freelance writer living in Annapolis. His two sons, Beckett-6 and Rowan-2 1/2 ask him 'why' approximately 6,542 times a day.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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