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Here's a rundown of the facts and the fiction behind ladybug spots.
First of all, there are about 5000 different species of ladybugs in the world (and counting). But you probably already new that because you've visited our ladybug facts page right? So why is this important? Within the numerous ladybug species these little critters have vast ranges of spot patterns, colors and spot numbers. Some ladybugs don't have spots at all.
Do the spots tell a ladybugs age?
Nope but thats a good guess. I remember thinking this was the case at one time and whenever I would see a ladybug with fewer spots I would think it was old because they had faded away. Which leads to a common myth that ladybugs spots fade with age. There is a ladybug species (anatis labiculata) however, that wings change color with age. The spots don't fade but the elytra gets so dark with time that it is hard to differentiate the spots for the rest of the wing.
Do the spots on a ladybug tell what sex they are?
Nope, that is another interesting idea and fun to pretend but ladybugs of either sex can be found with the same number of spots and same type of spot pattern. You can also find ladybugs in a given species with varying spot patterns and shell color variations having nothing to do with the sex of the ladybugs. Several colors within one species are called color morphs. Realistically you need to be a ladybug expert to the sexes apart and even then many times this can't be determined without dissecting the critter.
So what is the function of ladybug spots?
Ladybug spot patterns vary widely from species to species and come in a variety of colors. Most people are familiar with black spots, but they also come in brown, blue, beige, green, orange, red, yellow and white. Just as the shell or elytra comes in a variety of colors other than the popular red including black, beige, pink, yellow, orange, brown, green and blue.
Ladybugs are warning predators with their spot patterns that they taste bad. They are poisonous to small predators such as lizards and birds that might consider them for a meal. Many species also have eyespots that further deter predators.
OK, so what's an eyespot? Look at that ladybug to the left. That's the Eyed Ladybird, Anatis Ocellata. Eyespots are just extra decorative spots that look like eyes. They often trick predators by making ladybugs or other animals that have them appear larger. Additionally they are often located away from the head to draw a predators attack away, increasing the ladybug's chance of survival.
Spots also aid us in identifying a ladybugs species. Though not the primary factor in determining a ladybugs species, they are one of the properties that help etymologists and ladybug enthusiasts narrow down what group they might fall into.
Other theories on Ladybug Spots
The shape, size, color depth and number of spots on a ladybug can vary within one species. An intriguing theory suggest that variations in spots and color may additionally have to do with infrared absorbtion. This idea basically suggests that ladybugs with more dark colors and dark spots are capable of more heat absorbtion from the sun and can thus be more active. This is useful if they live in a climate where sunlight is limited. This theory is illustrated in an example of Adalia bipunctata (Two-spotted ladybug). Over 100 color morphs have been named.
Variations of the Two-spotted Ladybug - Adalia bipunctata - photos: Keith Edkins
With so many variations in color within one species of ladybugs, this theory further suggests that the spots and color variation may have to do with mate selection. Female ladybugs may choose a mate with more or less dark coloration ( whether in the spots or shell) depending on the region they live in.
More information on ladybugs!
Learn about the anatomy of ladybugs. The most well known part of the ladybug is called the elytra which is the outer hard shell-like wings of the ladybug.
Ladybug Life Cycle
Ladybugs sure grow up fast. Like other beetles they have complex little lives. Learn the phases of a ladybug's life cycle here!
Ladybug for Pest Control
Ladybugs are renowned for their abilities to control a number of pests that eat our plants. Learn the facts about ladybugs & pest control here.
Learn how to attract ladybugs to your yard or property the natural way. On this page we have some info how to get these colorful little beauties to start showing up in your garden.