Ladybugs are insects. They are part of a group of insects called beetles. Even though they are called ladybugs, not all of them are females! In order to make baby ladybugs, there has to be a female and a male ladybug. All insects, including ladybugs, have three main body parts: a head, thorax, and abdomen. They have six legs, two antennae, and special compound eyes so they can see in many directions at once. Many insects have wings. For more details about insect anatomy, classification, and habitats, visit our Insect Investigations page. Talk about the body parts of a ladybug. If your kids caught ladybugs in the 'Ladybug Investigation' project, let them locate each body part on a ladybug as you talk about it.
Just like all beetles, ladybugs go through different stages of life. Young ladybugs actually don't look anything like the pretty red and black adult ladybugs we are all used to seeing. If you saw one that wasn't an adult yet, you might not even recognize it. The stages that ladybugs go through are all steps in a very complex process called metamorphosis. (Other beetles, butterflies, and amphibians like frogs go through metamorphosis too!)
A female ladybug lays a cluster of tiny yellow eggs. Ladybugs usually lay eggs on leaves where there will be plenty of food for the babies when they hatch. After about one week, the eggs will hatch and small odd-looking creatures appear! (Here is a picture of some ladybug eggs on the back of a leaf.)
The odd-looking creatures that hatch out of the eggs are called larva (larvae if there are more than one). They have long bodies with six legs. They are mostly black with colored spots and they look sort of like little alligators. The ladybug will live as a larva for about two to four weeks of its life. During that time, the larva will shed its skin several times. Each time, the skin underneath allows it to grow a little bit bigger. While it is a larva, the ladybug will eat a lot; it can eat as many as 400 aphids! When the larva has grown as much as it needs to, it attaches itself to a leaf to get ready for its next stage of life. (Here is a good picture of a ladybug larva.)
The larva attached to the leaf is now a pupa. It will stay attached to that leaf while it changes into an adult. The pupa does not eat or move because it stored up plenty of food in its body while it was a larva. After about five days, the pupa has changed in incredible ways and is ready to 'hatch' again as an adult ladybug! (This is a ladybug in the pupa stage.)
Now the ladybug emerges from its pupa as a pretty adult ladybug! These are the kind of ladybugs we are used to seeing. It now has two sets of wings. One set of wings is the hard brightly-colored part that helps us recognize ladybugs. This hard set of wings is called the elytra (say: EL-LIE-TRA) and it protects the fragile flying wings underneath. The ladybug has an oval-shaped body, six legs, two antennae, a head with two eyes, a thorax that is called a pronotum, and an abdomen (the part of the body that is covered by the elytra). When the pupa hatches as a new adult ladybug, it doesn't have any spots yet and its elytra are wet, soft, and pale colored. They will dry out during the ladybug's first day as an adult and it will soon be a pretty bright color with black spots! Ladybugs can actually be red, orange, or yellow! Some kinds can even be gray, brown, or all black, but they are less common, and it's hard to tell they are really ladybugs since their spots are harder to see. Scientists have counted over 5,000 different kinds of ladybugs in the world! Each of these different kinds has special characteristics, such as color, number of spots, and the shape and size of it's body. Check out these pictures of different kinds of ladybugs in colors other than red!
As an adult, the new ladybugs can eat up to 75 aphids a day. Towards the end of the summer, ladybugs like to eat pollen and some types of plants so that they can store up fat for the winter. During the winter, ladybugs hibernate. To stay warm, they usually huddle together in groups and bury themselves under piles of leaves, grasses, or rocks for protection from winter weather. When spring arrives, the ladybugs will begin to wake up and come out looking for a tasty meal of aphids! They will begin to lay eggs that will grow into more ladybugs.
Use this Ladybug Life Cycle chart worksheet to review the stages of a ladybug's life cycle. Print out both pages and let kids color the pictures, then cut and paste them into the correct spots and label each stage.