If you have roses blooming in your yard in the winter--or trying to bloom--check to see if there's a lady beetle, aka ladybug prowling around.
A lady beetle can eat as many as 5000 aphids in its lifetime, so they're the good guys and gals in the garden.
"These beetles have become a cultural icon of sorts because of their appearance and their beneficial habits," writes UC Davis professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, in her insect fact sheet on Lady Bugs and Lady Beetles. "Both adults and larvae feed on aphids and other small, soft-bodied insects...They are ferocious predators on small insects."
Lady beetles do have predators, though, despite (1) their bright red "warning" coloration that yells "Hey, wait, don't eat me! I don't taste good!" and (2) the toxic chemical, isopropyl methoxy pyrazine, that oozes from their joints when they're disturbed.
Ever seen that? We did one summer when a cellar spider nabbed a lady beetle in its web and began eating it.
It probably didn't eat it all...
That's the astronomical moment, according to the Farmer's Almanac, "when the Sun reaches the Tropic of Capricorn" and "we have our shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere in terms of daylight. Regardless of what the weather is doing outside your window, the solstice marks the official start of winter."
If you're in the cold, so are the insects.
We captured images of a lady beetle, aka ladybug, covered with rain droplets as it huddled on the silvery gray foliage of our Artemisia, a plant that belongs to the daisy family, Asteracease. Some of the common names among the species in this genus are mugwort, sagewort and wormwood. Bug on a mugwort?
After the winter solstice, the days get longer and the nights get shorter. Is it too soon to think about spring?
If only this insect, in its own bubble of sorts, could talk...
The lady beetle, aka ladybug, scurried up the lion's tail plant, Leonotis leonurus.
Up one stem and down another, she went. Apparently, she didn't find what she was looking for--aphids or other small bodied-insects--and took flight.
If you haven't planted this in your pollinator garden, you should. A native of South Africa, it is cherished for its dazzling orange spiked blossoms, reminiscent of a lion's tail. The plant is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, which means it has square stems.
Other attributes include: drought resistant, deer resistant, and basically disease-free and pest-free. It attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. And our little buddies, the lady beetles. You can never get enough of them!
Note also that the lion's tail is known for its medicinal properties. "The main psychoactive component of Leonotis leonurus is claimed to be leonurine, even though leonurine has never been found in the plant using chemical analysis," according to Wikipedia. "Like other plants in the mint family, it also contains marrubiin. The name 'wild dagga' links it closely to cannabis as 'dagga' derived from the Khoikhoi 'dachab' is an indigenous South African name for cannabis species. This name may be a misnomer, as no part of the plant is used as a hallucinogen."
Wikipedia adds: "The infusions made from flowers and seeds, leaves or stems are widely used to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, diabetes, viral hepatitis, dysentery, and diarrhea. The leaves, roots and bark are used as an emetic for snakebites, bee and scorpion stings. The fresh stem juice is used as an infusion drunk for 'blood impurity' in some places of South Africa."
We just like the calming effect it has in the pollinator garden.
So here are all these milkweed bugs clustered on a showy milkweed leaf, Asclepias speciosa. It's early morning and the red bugs are a real eye opener.
They're seed eaters, but as Hugh Dingle, emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology says: "They are opportunistic and generalists." They not only eat seeds, but monarch eggs and larvae, as well as the oleander aphids that infest the milkweed.
But wait, one of these is not like the other.
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, photobombs the scene. It sleeps with them and eats (aphids) with them. They are sharing the same food source: oleander aphids.
A little drama in the mustard patch...
A honey bee is foraging head-first in the mustard. She's collecting nectar and pollen. She does not see the lady beetle, aka ladybug, thrust head-first above her.
The honey bee is dusted with yellow pollen. The ladybug, not so much.
The bee moves closer. The ladybug does not move.
If there were any conversations between the two beneficial insects, it might go like this:
Honey Bee: "Hi, ladybug. Let's share the mustard, okay? You take the aphids--I don't eat aphids--and I'll take the nectar and pollen. Is that all right with you?"
The ladybug does not move. She neither sees nor hears her buzzing companion.
The honey creeps closer.
Honey Bee, louder: "I said, is that okay, ladybug? I'm here for the nectar and pollen! I don't want your aphids!"
Ladybug, mumbling: "Aphids? Don't even think about eating my aphids. Buzz off, will ya?"
The honey bee buzzes off--to find more nectar and pollen.
The drama ends as quickly as it begins.
Another day in the mustard patch.