I was walking around my yard the other day like a big coarse human, admiring the Beautiful Splashy Things which I had, through intent or dumb luck, played a role in creating.
After a few minutes of this sort of thing, I meandered absent-mindedly over to my small homemade pond to pull a thistle that had offended my aesthetic sensibilities. On the underside of its leaves, I found this:
Which, gazed upon more closely, looked like this:
Now, I had seen a gaggle, or kindle, or herd — whatever — of ladybugs (technically, “ladybird beetles”) a few weeks earlier, all over my little plum tree. Initially, I was thrilled, because ladybugs are not only impossibly cute, but highly beneficial: They eat aphids and other garden pests the way I would eat sushi if it didn’t cost so much.
Once my giddiness passed, however, I realized that their very presence meant my tree was probably also teeming with aphids. I bent closer, and they came into view: a gazillion tiny, green sap-suckers at work on the plum’s delicate burgundy leaves. Drat.
Then I looked again at all those beautiful little beetles and immediately brightened.
So it took just a few seconds — OK, maybe a few minutes — to realize when I uprooted that thistle that I had stumbled upon the ladybug backstory. With lightning speed, I rushed into my home to gather my camera and video recorder, the better to annoy them, er, share with you the wonder of what I was witnessing:
On the undersides of leaf after leaf, I could see larvae and pupae in various stages of development. I learned later that ladybugs lay tiny, yellow cone-shaped eggs near prey; in a few days, those eggs hatch into larvae that look like itty-bitty alligators. These larvae gobble up aphids and other soft-bodied garden pests, shedding their skins several times before gluing their wee bums to leaves, pupating and then molting into adults. A newly minted ladybug’s shell requires a few hours to completely harden and acquire its familiar red-orange pigment and black spots.
The whole process takes just three to four weeks, but during much of that time, aspiring ladybugs are particularly vulnerable to predators. That’s especially so during the pupa stage. Some butterfly pupae make sounds or motions to scare away predators, and I wondered, as I fiddled with the leaves and watched, if my ladybugs might be doing the same:
Eventually, I quit pestering the youngsters and turned my attention toward finding an adult ladybug. It had been awhile since I had seen any; I hadn’t realized that the torch was being passed to a new generation during their absence.
Finally, I found what I was looking for — bright, gleaming and obviously new to the world:
As I studied her glossy perfection, I was tempted to wax spiritual, to marvel aloud at the common miracle of a miniature metamorphosis I had almost missed because my eyes were drawn to gaudier things.
“The holy,” says the Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbon, “is nothing but the ordinary held up to the light and profoundly seen.”
Then I looked at that little ladybug again; she seemed to be looking back.
Purty, I thought. Purty.
This post originally appeared in July 2015; this repeat celebrates the ladybug hatch again underway in my yard.