It's no easy task identifying your little garden visitor. After all, there are more than 5,000 species of ladybugs around the world. Also called ladybirds and ladybird beetles, ladybugs are welcomed by gardeners because of their great pest control abilities. Ladybugs eat aphids, other soft-bodied insects and insect eggs.
Wing Colors and Patterns
When you picture a ladybug, it's probably a cute little red bug sporting black dots. However, not all ladybugs are red, nor do they all have spots. Ladybugs can be yellow, brown or orange, and some have no dots, while others have stripes or blotches instead of dots. When you look down at a ladybug, it's not her back or a shell you're seeing, but instead elytra, her shell-like coverings that serve as a front set of wings. If you want to identify your visitor, pay attention to her elytra and note its color and pattern, if she has one. Also take note of her shape; some ladybugs are round and others are more oval. Ladybugs are tiny little creatures, with the largest not quite reaching 1/2 inch long.
Pronotum Patterns and Colors
Looking at the pronotum, which is the first part of her thorax where the legs and wings join her body, helps identify which species of ladybug has graced your garden. This space between her wings and head may have light spots, dark spots, a complicated pattern or have nothing at all. It can also come in a variety of colors, including black, red and yellow.
Common Red Ladybugs
If your beetle has red wings, each with one black or brown spot, it's likely a two-spotted ladybug. This ladybug has a dome-shaped body and is often sold to help eat many soft-bodied garden insects. The seven-spotted ladybug is a bit bigger, with three spots on each wing and one split in half between the two wings.
Common Black Ladybugs
The twice-stabbed ladybug has a dramatic name. She's round, black and has one red spot on each wing. Though smaller than the tiny two-spotted ladybug, she is a hearty eater and spends time in trees looking for scales to eat. The spider mite destroyer is quite tiny, measuring less than 1/4 inch long. She's all black and covered with tiny hairs and can eat up to 100 spider mites in a day.
Other Familiar Ladybugs
Sometimes you'll have to pay attention to a ladybug's head to confirm her identity. The Asian ladybug isn't native to the US but has been warmly welcomed because of her great ability to eat so many types of garden pests. This slightly oval-shaped beetle comes in a variety of orange and red shades. Some have spots and others don't, which doesn't help much with identifying this variety. In this case, look at the beetle's head; Asian ladybugs have a "W" or "M" on the backs of their heads. The convergent ladybug is one of the most familiar ladybugs in the US. Her body is elongated and she may have a few or many spots on her red wings. A prominent black and white pattern on her head can confirm she's a convergent ladybug.
John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images