Sunday, May 15, 2005

On the cuteness of ladybugs

Ladybugs? Yes, ladybugs.

I found one yesterday on my bathroom floor and immediately thought, "Oh, how cute!" But that thought was immediately followed by a second one: what's so cute about a ladybug? Is there any other insect we generally think of as cute, and would tolerate in our homes?

It's commonly known that ladybugs are helpful to have in the garden, eating all sorts of tiny pests. I know, of course, that earthworms are some kind of wonderful, too. But they are far from cute, and if I found one on my bathroom floor I would, quite simply, freak.

No, ladybugs really are cute. Rounded, red, and spotted, they look like toys (and have been the inspiration for some). They radiate that sense of puppyhood or youngness that humans seem to respond to with a smile.

It's mostly the shape and the color. Here's a nice potpourri of ladybug images to peruse. I think only a heart of stone would fail to agree: cute, cute, and more cute (with the sole exception of the very first image on the page, which in close-up appears to be some sort of fanciful artist's rendering).

There's a limit, of course, to even my ladybug tolerance. Every now and then a whole bunch of them enter the house. I would certainly be willing, at the very least, to escort them out--if it weren't for the fact that by the time I ordinarily see them they are already deceased, so my task is limited to clearing out the bodies. But they are cute bodies.

It's not about beauty, either. In fact, one of the peskier pests, the Japanese beetle, is a rather lovely creature, looked at somewhat objectively. The jewel-like iridescence of its wings, shining in the sun, is something I often admire--right before I plunk the owner of said wings into a jar of alcohol.

So, I am not an insect lover, I must confess. My guess is that most people would agree that insects are not particularly appealing. But some insects are, and it turns out the ladybug is not the only one.

According to this chart, all but eight states have adopted state insects. Who knew? I always thought that, in Maine and New Hampshire, if there were a designated state insect it would be a close tie between the mosquito and the black fly (sometimes also known as the state birds). But no. Maine prefers the honeybee (not one of my personal favorites, but an extremely popular state insect, with eighteen states choosing it) and New Hampshire--well, New Hampshire is one of six states proudly and sensibly backing Ms. Cuteness herself, the ladybug. Many states (twenty-four in all) cop out by choosing a butterfly, which I know is actually an insect but hardly seems like one to me.

It seems as though, to achieve most-favored-insect status, there needs to be a combination of beneficial (or at least benign) activity and either cuteness or beauty. Butterflies may be free, but they are certainly not cute; they are beautiful. Japanese beetles may be beautiful, but they are harmful to the garden. Earthworms may be beneficial, but to my way of thinking are just not cute (though the Lowly Worm might be considered an exception).

And then there's my current nemesis, the truly vile lily beetle. It came north in droves last year, forcing gardeners in the area to destroy their beautiful lilies, or watch them be destroyed almost overnight by this voracious plague. But here the lily beetles are (that is, pictures of them). No, they're not fat and round like the ladybug, and they lack the dalmatian-like spots, but they are somewhat cute and somewhat ladybuggish, if esthetics were the only criterion.

But it most decidedly is not. I have declared war against them, although, so far, I lack weapons in the fight, unless I want to poison myself and possibly everything around me (it's a relic of my liberalness; I'm reluctant to use pesticides for mere ornamentals). This guy's advice, which is to go out two or three times a day and pick them off your lilies, is simply not going to happen (blogging is labor-intensive enough!)

But there is a ray of hope. In the same article, the author writes that there are plans to introduce the French parasite of the Lily Beetle sometime next year. So, help is on the way, and from France, of all places! The only problem is that, as it tuns out, this article was written in 1998. Ah well, c'est la vie, c'est la guerre.


At 4:35 PM, May 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhh, ladybugs...not so cute this past winter for some East Tennesseans who definitely suffered inside the house investations. One family was featured in the local Knoxville paper who had to deal with literally hundreds of thousands of the little critters. Even if that is a gross exaggeration, there would still have to be a whole heck of a lot to lead a person to say such a thing in a news story. I probably vacuumed up hundreds off a south facing window this past year which fortunately was a first for me. Hope the survivors that I released to the outside ( while it still was a novel occurrence) will spread the word to the rest of the ladybug population that my house is not a safe winter hidaway.

At 6:24 PM, May 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yuck! That sounds like something right out of a horror movie. I guess you can get too much of a good thing. The most I've ever seen in the house at one time is maybe ten.

At 7:01 PM, May 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somewhere in all the books and brochures and even on a CD, all from studying as a Master Gardener, I have photos of larval ladybugs. Definitely not cute, if they were not so small they would be downright scary. I think we think of ladybugs as cute for the same reason kids think pill bugs are cute. We play with them, they are not harmful and they ladybugs are colorful

At 7:47 PM, May 15, 2005, Blogger Crystal said...

I was suprised to see that Florida's "official" insect is some sort of butterfly. I thought for sure it would be the Palmetto bug, which is a species of cockroach which is between 1-3/8" to 2-1/8". The worst thing is that they fly.

At 8:10 PM, May 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yes...state flowers. Well in Alaska we have a State Fossil--the Wooley Mammoth. Some legislators have too much time on their hands.

Jim P in Alaska

At 3:02 AM, May 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just sent you a ladybug that is not so cute.


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