Gateway to the Classics: Handbook of Nature Study: Insects by Anna Botsford Comstock
 
Handbook of Nature Study: Insects by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Ladybird

Teacher's Story

Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home!

Your house is on fire, your children are burning.

dropcap image HIS incantation we, as children, repeated to this unhearing little beetle, probably because she is and ever has been, the incarnation of energetic indecision. She runs as fast as her short legs can carry her in one direction, as if her life depended on getting there, then she turns about and goes with quite as much vim in another direction. Thus, it is no wonder the children think that when she hears this news of her domestic disasters, she wheels about and starts for home; but she has not any home now nor did she ever have a home, and she does not carry even a trunk. Perhaps it would be truer to say that she has a home everywhere, whether she is cuddled under a leaf for a night's lodging or industriously climbing out on twigs, only to scramble back again, or perchance to take flight from their tips.


[Illustration]

Ladybird larva.

There are many species of ladybirds, but in general they all resemble a tiny pill cut in half, with legs attached to the flat side. Sometimes it may be a round and sometimes an oval pill, but it is always shining and the colors are always dull dark red, or yellow, or whitish, and black. Sometimes she is black with red or yellow spots, sometimes red or yellow with black spots and the spots are usually on either side of the thorax and one on each snug little wing-cover. But if we look at the ladybird carefully we can see the head and the short, clublike antennæ. Behind the head is the thorax with its shield, broadening toward the rear, spotted and ornamented in various ways; the head and thorax together occupy scarcely a fourth of the length of the insect, and the remainder consists of the hemispherical body, encased with polished wing-covers. The little black legs, while quite efficient because they can be moved so rapidly, are not the ladybird's only means of locomotion; she is a good flier and has a long pair of dark wings which she folds cross-wise under her wing-covers. It is comical to see her pull up her wings, as a lady tucks up a long petticoat; and sometimes ladybird is rather slovenly about it and runs around with the tips of her wings hanging out behind, quite untidily.

But any untidiness must be inadvertent, because the ladybird takes very good care of herself and spends much time in "washing up." She begins with her front legs, cleaning them with her mandibles, industriously nibbling off every grain of dust; she then cleans her middle and hind legs by rubbing the two on the same side, back and forth against each other, each acting as a whisk broom for the other; she cleans her wings by brushing them between the edges of the wing-cover above and the tarsus of her hind leg below.

The ladybird is a clever little creature, even if it does look like a pill, and if you disturb it, it will fold up its legs and drop as if dead, playing possum in a most deceptive manner. It will remain in this attitude of rigid death for at least a minute or two and then will begin to claw the air with all its six legs in an effort to turn right side up.

From our standpoint the ladybird is of great value, for during the larval as well as adult stages, all species except one, feed upon those insects which we are glad to be rid of. They are especially fond of aphids and scale insects. One of the greatest achievements of economic entomology was the introduction on the Pacific Coast of the ladybird from Australia, called the Vedalia, which preys upon the cottony cushion scale insect, a species very dangerous to orange and lemon trees. Within a few years the introduced ladybirds had completely exterminated this pest.


[Illustration]

Ladybird pupa.

The ladybird's history is as follows: The mother beetle, in the spring, lays her eggs here and there on plants: as soon as the larva hatches, it starts out to hunt for aphids and other insects. It is safe to say that no ladybird would recognize her own children in time to save them, even if the house were burning, for they do not in the least resemble her; they are neither roly-poly nor shiny, but are long and segmented and velvety, with six queer, short legs that look and act as if they were whittled out of wood; they seem only efficient for clinging around a stem. The larvæ are usually black, spotted with orange or yellow; there are six warts on each segment, which make the creature's back look quite rough. The absorbing business of the larva is to crawl around on plants and chew up the foolish aphids or the scale insects. I have seen one use its front foot to push an aphid, which it was eating, closer to its jaws; but when one green leg of its victim still clung to its head, it did not try to rub it off as its mother would have done, but twisted its head over this way and that, wiping off the fragment on a plant stem and then gobbling it up.


[Illustration]

Ladybird beetle, "the nine-spotted lady-bug."

After the larva has shed its skeleton skin several times, and destroyed many times its own bulk of insects, it hunts for some quiet corner, hangs itself up by the tail and condenses itself into a sub-globular form; it sheds its spiny skin pushing it up around the point of attachment, and there lets it stay like the lion's skin of Hercules. As a pupa, it is more nearly rectangular than round, and if we look closely, we can see the wing-cases, the spotted segments of the abdomen, and the eyes, all encased in the pupa skin; the latter bursts open after a few days and the shining, little half-globe emerges a full-grown ladybird, ready for hiding in some cozy spot to pass the winter, from which she will emerge in the spring, to stock our trees and vines, next year, with her busy little progeny.


References—American Insects, Kellogg; Manual for the Study of Insects, Comstock.

Lesson XCIII

The Ladybird

Leading thought—The ladybird is a beetle. Its young are very different from the adult in appearance, and feed upon plant-lice.


Method—These little beetles are very common in autumn and may be brought to the schoolroom and passed around in vials for the children to observe. Their larvæ may be found on almost any plant infested with plant-lice. Plant and all may be brought into the schoolroom and the actions of the larvæ noted by the pupils during recess.


Observations—

1. How large is the ladybird? What is its shape? Would two of them make a little globe if they were put flat sides together?

2. What colors do you find on your ladybird?

3. Do you see the ladybird's head and antennæ? What is the broad shield directly back of the head called? How is it marked, and with what colors? What color are the wing-covers? Are there any spots upon them? How many? Does the ladybird use its wing-covers when it flies? Describe her true wings. Does she fold them beneath the wing-covers?

4. Note the legs and feet. Are the legs long? Are they fitted for running? To which part of the body are they attached?

5. If you disturb the ladybird how does she "play possum?" Describe how she makes her toilet.


The Larva

1. Describe the ladybird larva. Does it look like its mother? What is its form? Is it warty and velvety or shiny?

2. Describe its head and jaws as far as you can see. How does it act when eating? Can you see its little stiff legs? Is there a claw at the end of each?

3. Describe the actions of the ladybird larva in attacking and eating the plant-lice. Does it shed its skin as it grows?

4. Watch a larva until it changes to a pupa. How does the pupa look? Can you see the shed skin? Where is it? To what is the pupa attached? When the pupa skin breaks open what comes out of it?

5. Why is the ladybird of great use to us? Write an English theme upon the ladybird, called Vedalia, which saved the orange orchards of California.


[Illustration]

1. Larva;   2. pupa;   3. adult of a species of ladybird, enlarged. The small beetle represents actual size.


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