Gardening In Depth

What Do Ladybug Larvae Look Like?

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What do ladybug larvae look like? Knowing how to identify ladybugs (and other insects) at different stages in their life cycles will make you a better gardener and farmer, so come learn how! (Updated: Jan 28, 2019)


First, an embarrassing personal story…

Our first painful and guilt-inducing encounter with ladybug larvae  

Many years ago when we were new gardeners, we didn’t know very much about insects. One day, as we were standing under a willow tree in our backyard, we noticed several small, spiny black and orange insects crawling down the tree trunk’s bark.

Yikes! What to do?

The insects looked dangerous, like miniature alligators. Surely, they were some sort of stinging critter that would do harm to us if given the opportunity.

What do ladybug larvae look like? Knowing the answer could keep you from making a tragic gardening mistake like we did.

What do ladybug larvae look like? Knowing the answer could keep you from making the same tragic gardening mistake that we did.

So, like good responsible humans, we smashed the small insects with our gloved hands.

A little later when we were back inside, we did some googling. To our horror, we discovered that we’d just killed the larvae of some of the most beneficial predatory insects you can possibly have in your garden: ladybugs.

If we’d known the answer to the question “what do ladybug larvae look like?” we’d never have made this mistake. Our ignorance caused an unnecessary tragedy.

Ugh.

Feeling completely ashamed and disgusted with ourselves, we decided to create our own “insect policy” to ensure we never made the same mistake again.

Tyrant Farms’ Insect Policy: No action without knowledge

We decided that before we ever intentionally killed another insect (or any other critter) in our garden, we’d have to go through the following checklist first:

  1. We had to know what species it was.
  2. We had to know what ecological function it served.
  3. It had to present either a danger to us or our animals, OR it had to present a danger to our plants that would not likely be kept in check by our predatory insects. Examples of pest insects that fall into this category: black widows, ticks (although our ducks eat them all now), Squash Vine Borers, and Japanese beetles).

Also, when eradicating a pest insect that meets all three criteria above, we use approaches that do not harm non-target species. Depending on the pest insect we’re trying to control, the remedy might be catch crops, neem oil, bait traps, or removal by hand.

What's this scary looking critter eating an aphid on the underside of our Rosa rugosa plants? Nope, it's not a ladybug larva, it's a lacewing larva, another predator that helps keep pest insects like aphids in check.

What’s this scary looking critter eating an aphid on the underside of our Rosa rugosa plants? Nope, it’s not a ladybug larva, it’s a lacewing larva, another predator that helps keep pest insects like aphids in check.

A walk through the life cycle of a ladybug – and answers to all your ladybug questions

Ladybugs (Coccinellidae) are technically not true bugs (Hemiptera), which is why entomologists prefer to call them “ladybird beetles” or simply “lady beetles.” Since most people in the US call them “ladybugs,” we’ll use that name in this article.

An adult ladybug hunting insects atop an unopened flower bud. What does a ladybug larvae look like?

An adult ladybug hunting insects atop an unopened flower bud.

Different species of ladybugs exist in every temperate region on earth. At least 500 species of ladybugs have been identified in the US and almost 5,000 species have been identified worldwide.

Since ladybugs are voracious predators (and quite cute), they’re popular with gardeners, farmers, and children.

What do ladybugs eat?

Ladybugs eat other insects (and insect eggs) that are smaller than they are. These tend to be pest insects that gardeners dislike, such as aphids, scales, and mites.

This is closeup of a dead aphid that's about the size of a pin tip. Lots of small predatory insects eat aphids, including ladybugs. In this case, the aphid was killed by a tiny parasitoid wasp, which laid its egg in the aphid. The wasp larva grows inside the aphid before emerging, leaving behind a hole in the skeletonized aphid.

This is closeup of a dead aphid that’s about the size of a pin tip. Lots of small predatory insects eat aphids, including ladybugs. In this case, the aphid was killed by a tiny parasitoid wasp, which laid its egg in the aphid. The wasp larva grows inside the aphid before emerging, leaving behind a hole in the skeletonized aphid.

Without ladybugs and other predatory insects around, these pest insects can quickly proliferate, weakening or killing the host plants or even entire crops.

What eats ladybugs? 

As we often see in our garden, predator may become prey and prey may become predator. Even though ladybugs are predators, they may also become prey for anoles, spiders, mantids, frogs, and other predators. 

A green lynx spider was a predator of this paper wasp (itself a predator). Both of these animals may eat ladybugs (also predators). As you can see, defining what is a predator or prey is a matter of perspective.

A green lynx spider was a predator of this paper wasp (itself a predator). Both of these animals may eat ladybugs (also predators). As you can see, defining what is a predator or prey is a matter of perspective.

Do ladybugs bite people? 

No, ladybugs (Coccinellids) don’t bite people, but Asian ladybugs/lady beetles (Harmonia axyridis) can bite people. The two insects look almost identical. You can read about the differences and how to ID them here.

Adding to the confusion, Asian lady beetles are usually called Asian ladybugs. Both insects are predators and we see them both in our garden. Unfortunately, Asian ladybugs can often outcompete native ladybugs.

Do ladybugs overwinter? 

Yes, ladybugs overwinter. Here again, an important distinction:

  • Ladybugs (Coccinellids) overwinter outdoors under leaves or other debris.
  • Asian ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis) are the ones that will often amass in large numbers inside your home in the winter.

Ladybug Lifecycle Phase 1: EGG

What do ladybug eggs look like? 

A pregnant female ladybug will lay her eggs on the underside of leaves where food is abundant, e.g. lots of small pest insects are present.

Ladybug eggs are yellow and oval-shaped, and laid in a closely grouped cluster of about 15-40 eggs.

Lady bug eggs on the underside of a seedling at Tyrant Farms.

Ladybug eggs on the underside of a seedling at Tyrant Farms.

If you see a plant in your yard that has lots of aphids and ladybugs on it, don’t interfere! Within 7-10 days, the adult ladybugs and their larvae will likely eat nearly every aphid on the plant.

Red ants tending their flock of aphids. The ants fend off aphid predators (including ladybugs) and lap up the honeydew the aphids excrete. In this case, they even made a covered rain shelter for their aphid herd. If you have a plant being harmed by aphids, and the aphids are being protected by ants, you can simply blast them all off with a hose sprayer rather than using poisons.

Red ants tending their flock of aphids. The ants fend off aphid predators (including ladybugs) and lap up the honeydew the aphids excrete. In this case, they even made a covered rain shelter for their aphid herd. If you have a plant being harmed by aphids, and the aphids are being protected by ants, you can simply blast them all off with a hose sprayer rather than using poisons.

How many eggs can a ladybug lay? 

While a ladybug egg cluster will usually contain between 15-40 eggs, a single female ladybug can lay up to 1,000 eggs throughout the warm months from spring through summer.

How long does it take ladybug eggs to hatch?

It varies by species and conditions, but ladybug eggs will hatch within 4-10 days.

Ladybug Lifecycle Phase 2: LARVA 

What do ladybug larvae look like?

Ladybug larvae look like miniature black and orange alligators, and have small black and orange spikes protruding from their bodies.

What do ladybug larvae look like? Here's an image of a ladybug larva (late instar) in my hand so you can see for yourself!

What do ladybug larvae look like? Here’s an image of a ladybug larva (late instar) in my hand so you can see for yourself!

How long does the ladybug larval stage last? 

Once the larvae hatch from their egg cluster, they’ll progress through the larval stage in about 20-30 days. During that time, they become larger as they consume other insects, molting their skin as they grow.

As with butterfly caterpillars/larvae, each time a ladybug larva molts its skin, it enters a new developmental stage, aka “instar.” There are typically four instar stages before a ladybug larva is large enough to pupate.

There's quite a lot happening on this single serviceberry branch. Ladybug larvae are hunting aphids while ants farm the aphids and try to protect their aphid

There’s quite a lot happening on this single serviceberry branch. Ladybug larvae are hunting aphids while ants farm the aphids and try to protect their aphid “livestock” from the ladybugs.

Where do ladybug larvae live?

Ladybug larvae live and hunt on the leaves of plants, just as adult ladybugs do. Adult ladybugs can fly to new plants, whereas the larvae have to crawl to get to a new plant.

In late summer, our asparagus leaves usually end up with a temporary aphid infestation. What do ladybug larvae look like? Article by Tyrant Farms

In late summer, our asparagus leaves usually end up with a temporary aphid infestation. “Temporary” because within a week, ladybugs have descended on the plant, gorging on the aphids and laying eggs. Once the eggs hatch, ladybug larvae have a feast as well and eventually the plant is aphid-free. How many ladybug larvae and adults do you see in this photo?

How many pest insects can a single ladybug larva eat? 

A single ladybug larva can eat up to 400 aphids over the course of a month, which means the larvae from a 15-egg cluster could eat up to 6,000 aphids in your garden in one month. 

That’s a lot of free pest control!

Do ladybug larvae eat each other?

Yes, ladybug larvae may eat each other, but usually only do so if other food sources are scarce.

This is one of the reasons we tell people that a healthy garden or farm ecosystem HAS to have pest insects present. Without pests, there is no food for predators.

Do ladybug larvae bite?

Asian ladybug larvae can bite people, but it’s unclear whether our native ladybug larvae bite people. The bites are annoying but nowhere close in comparison to the sting of a bee or wasp sting.

Asian ladybug larvae don’t inject venom, so the residual pain from their bites is short-lived. If you get bitten by a ladybug larva just give the bite a quick wash.

Where can you buy ladybug larvae?

If you want to buy ladybug larvae to introduce to your garden, you can do that here or click the image below.

However, by creating a biodiverse plant ecosystem in your garden and eliminating use of synthetic pesticides, you should also be able to attract and maintain your own large ladybug population over the course of a year.

Ladybug Lifecycle Phase 3: PUPA

The next stage in a ladybug’s life cycle is the pupal stage.

This stage is similar to a chrysalis in the lifecycle of a butterfly. A ladybug pupa does not eat.

The pupa is immobile, and undergoes a drastic physiological transformation between a soft-bodied larva and an adult, hard-shelled beetle.

What do ladybug pupae look like? 

Ladybug pupae look like tiny orange shrimp attached to the leaf of a plant.

What do ladybug pupae look like? Here's a ladybug pupa at Tyrant Farms.

What do ladybug pupae look like? Here’s a ladybug pupa at Tyrant Farms.

How long does a ladybug take to pupate? 

There is variation by species and environmental conditions, but the pupal stage of a ladybug will last between 3-12 days, after which the skin will split open and the adult ladybug will emerge.

Ladybug Lifecycle Phase 4: ADULT 

Immediately after pupating, the adult ladybug’s shell will be dull and soft. The emergent ladybug will take a few hours to dry before its shell becomes hard. As the shell dries, it also gains pigment, turning into its final bright colors.

Ladybugs making new ladybugs on a pineapple leaf at Tyrant Farms. Mating ladybugs

Ladybugs making new ladybugs on a pineapple leaf at Tyrant Farms.

How many insects can an adult ladybug eat? 

A single adult ladybug may eat up to 5,000 insects (such as aphids) over the course of its life.

How long do adult ladybugs live? 

Depending on the exact species, ladybugs can live between 1-3 years. 

What do ladybug larvae look like? Now you know! Plus you know what a ladybug looks like at every other stage in its lifecycle as well.

What do ladybug larvae look like? Now you know! Plus you know what a ladybug looks like at every other stage in its lifecycle as well.


By reading this article, you’ve helped absolve us of the guilt we still feel from ignorantly killing ladybug larvae many years ago when we were new gardeners. Part of our ongoing penance is educating others.

Thank you for asking the question “what do ladybug larvae look like?” and caring enough to learn more about the life cycle of these remarkable little predatory insects. Please share this article to help other people learn more about ladybugs, too!

Lifecycle of a ladybug - pinterest / what do ladybug larvae look like

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KIGI,

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