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Ladybug spots aren't a sign of insect's age

I’ve had quite a few aphids in my lawn this spring, but luckily the ladybugs have arrived to gobble them up. Looking at some the other day, I was reminded how as kids we believed older ladybugs had more spots. Is that true, and can you tell the age of a ladybug by its spots?

— Greg, Rogue River

The number of spots on a ladybug isn’t an indication of its age, according to insect experts.

The spots, colors and patterns on a ladybug vary by species, although they can also vary among individuals in a species.

Adalia bipunctata is commonly called the two-spotted ladybug because it often has two black spots on its red back.

There is quite a bit of variety among two-spotted ladybugs, despite the name, with some having more spots. Their coloration can also be reversed, with red spots on a black body, according to insect experts.

The seven-spotted ladybug, or coccinella septempunctata, is the most common ladybug in Europe. It became firmly established in North American after the species was introduced to help control aphids and other pests.

The bright coloration of most ladybug species is a warning to predators that they taste terrible and can be toxic if ingested.

By the way, if you’ve noticed creepy-looking black and orange insects with elongated bodies and spiky exoskeletons crawling around your yard, garden or lawn furniture this spring, treat them kindly. They’re actually ladybug larvae that will eventually go through metamorphosis and turn into the cute critters we’ve loved since childhood.

Some people say they look like tiny alligators, minus the long snouts. Although the larvae don’t score high in the looks department, they also munch on aphids.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.