This evening I spotted this guy (or gal) resting on a branch of one of my orchids. When I first saw it I thought it was eating something. I brought in a couple of cuttings from the garden in late fall, and noticed a short while later that there were some aphids on the tomato. I collected up the ladybugs each time I spotted one in the house and placed it on the plant hoping they might help control the little plantsuckers. I suspect they were mostly interested in finding a place to hole up for the winter, and not so much in eating, but the aphids seem to be gone now so if the ladybugs didn’t eat them they must have died on their own. Although I thought it strange that the aphids had migrated to the orchid, both because I thought the aphids gone and the orchid’s flower scape is tough-skinned, not easy to bite through like the tomato plant, I nonetheless was relieved to see that the ladybug had found one and was doing the job it had been imported into North America for.
Then I had to look closer. Was it really eating an aphid? It seemed to be taking longer than I would expect an aphid to require, though I’ll admit I’ve never watched a ladybug eat an aphid before and for all I know they could take their sweet time savouring every bite. I was a bit puzzled. There seemed to be something sticking out from its mouth area, but it didn’t actually look altogether aphid-y.
Finally it pulled its legs away and I realized the yellowish things I’d been looking at were the insect’s mouthparts. The movement I had been observing was the ladybug cleaning its legs, very fastidiously. Perhaps because at this time of year there isn’t a whole lot else to do, it had been taking its time about it, making sure every last speck of dust was removed and every hair was in place. It looked like it had some work to do on its elytra once it was done.
We don’t really tend to think of ladybugs as having a third body segment, but the white-and-black “head” that’s in front of the red wing covers is the pronotum, the middle segment of the insect’s three-segmented body. In front of that, and usually tucked underneath as the ladybug trundles along, is the head and eyes. The big yellow pads sticking out from its mouth are its maxillae, which it uses to manipulate food while eating it, a little like we use our tongue.
For much of the time while I watched the ladybug dangled from the orchid scape, holding on by just one hind foot, equipped with a strong claw for just such a purpose. Look at the angle it’s held at. If I was dangling off something by just one limb, you can bet that limb would be straightened out and stretched to the max as I desperately tried not to let go. It’s amazing how strong these bugs are.