A ladybug is a member of the Coccunellidae family, which includes thousands of insect species. Many people think of bright red beetles with black spots when they hear the word "ladybug," although these beneficial insects can be found in a wide range of colors, with and without markings. Ladybugs live in gardens around the world, and they are often welcome visitors, since they eat agricultural pests like aphids. The distinctive coloration of some species has made them familiar to casual observers, and many societies have myths or songs which feature ladybugs.
Technically, a ladybug is a beetle, not a bug. Other common names for ladybugs include lady birds and lady beetles; the "lady" is believed to reference the seven classic spots on a Coccinella septempunctata, which represent the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary in some cultural traditions. In addition to classic red, ladybugs can also be found in yellow, orange, green, gray, white, and brown, and some ladybugs have black bodies with colored spots, rather than black spots on a colored body.
These useful insects are predators, feeding on a range of insects smaller than themselves. In a garden, a healthy ladybug population can minimize insect pests which could ruin a tree or shrub or at cause unsightly browning and wilting of beloved plants. Farmers also like to encourage ladybugs to hang around, since they will eat the larvae of some very harmful crop pests which could devastate an entire crop if left unchecked. Ladybugs will also live indoors if well cared for, and they can make interesting pets during the winter.
Brightly colored ladybugs use their color as a natural defense, since many predators learn that brightly colored animals and plants are harmful. Ladybugs are also capable of secreting a smelly, sticky, bitter liquid from their joints; this liquid helps to deter predators who may have decided that a ladybug would make a tasty snack.
Males and females of many species look very similar, except to trained biologists. Ladybugs generally mate in the spring, producing a large clutch of eggs which is usually laid near a colony of aphids or other small insects. When the larvae hatch, they can feed on the insects until they get big enough to fly and find fresh food of their own. Ladybugs can also hibernate for brief periods, which allows companies to ship them by mail to people who want ladybugs for their classrooms or gardens.