The 4 Stages of the Life Cycle of Ladybugs

Cute Ladybugs Live Complex Lives

Lady beetle larva
Getty Images/Moment Open/mark watson (kalimistuk)

Ladybugs go by several other names: lady beetles, ladybug beetles, and ladybird beetles. Regardless of what you call them, these beetles belong to the family Coccinellidae. All ladybugs progress through a four-stage life cycle known as complete metamorphosis.

Embryonic Stage (Eggs)

The ladybug life cycle begins with an egg. Once she has mated, the female ladybug lays a cluster of 10 to 50 eggs. Usually, she'll deposit her eggs on a plant with suitable prey for her offspring to eat when they hatch; aphids are a favorite food. Between spring and early summer, a single female ladybug may produce up to 1,000 eggs.

Scientists believe ladybugs lay both fertile and infertile eggs in the cluster. When aphids are in limited supply, the newly hatched larvae will feed on the infertile eggs.

Larval Stage (Larvae)

In about four days, the ladybug larvae emerge from their eggs. Species and environmental variables (such as temperature) may shorten or lengthen this time frame. Ladybug larvae look somewhat like tiny alligators, with elongate bodies and bumpy exoskeletons. In many species, the ladybug larvae are black with brightly colored spots or bands.

In the larval stage, ladybugs feed voraciously. A single larva can consume dozens of aphids per day. Larvae feed on other soft-bodied plant pests as well, including scale insects, adelgids, mites, and insect eggs. Ladybug larvae don't discriminate when feeding, and will sometimes eat ladybug eggs, too.

The newly hatched larva is in its first instar (a developmental stage that occurs between molts). It feeds until it grows too big for its cuticle (soft shell), at which time it will molt. After molting, the larva is in the second instar. Ladybug larvae usually molt through four instars, or larval stages, before preparing to pupate. The larva will attach itself to a leaf or other surface when it is ready to pupate (metamorphose into its adult form).

Pupal Stage (Pupae)

In its pupal stage, the ladybug is usually yellow or orange with black markings. The pupa remains still, attached to a leaf, throughout this stage. The ladybug's body undergoes a remarkable transformation, directed by special cells called histoblasts. The histoblasts control a biochemical process through which the larval body is broken down and reformed into the adult ladybug. Depending on the species and environmental variables such as temperature, the pupal stage may last 3 to 12 days.

Imaginal Stage (Adult Beetles)

Newly emerged adults, or imagos, have soft exoskeletons, making them vulnerable to predators until their cuticles harden. They also appear pale and yellow when they first emerge, but soon develop the deep, bright colors for which ladybugs are known.

Adult ladybugs feed on soft-bodied insects, just as their larvae do. Adults overwinter, usually hibernating in aggregations. They mate soon after becoming active again in the spring.

How to Find Ladybug Eggs and Larvae

If you have a garden plant that is prone to aphid infestations, you have access to prime ladybug habitat. If you want to familiarize yourself with the ladybug life cycle, visit this plant daily. Take your time examining the leaves, lifting them to observe the undersides, and you'll likely find a cluster of bright yellow eggs. Within a few days, tiny ladybug larvae will hatch, and you'll find the odd-looking immature ladybugs on the prowl for aphids. Later, you'll see dome-shaped pupae, shiny and orange. If aphids are abundant, adult lady beetles will hang around, too.