Happy birthday to a tiger-queen ladybug! My equal in finding four-leaf clovers, my partner in folding origami boxes instead of hiking big mountains when we were younger, and an incredibly patient and loving friend. This doodle could have just as easily been about tigers, but somehow I think the spots of a ladybug are more fitting for today.
There are many types of Ladybugs with a variation of colors ranging from scarlet to yellow to orange and even blue, white, or black! For the ladybugs, also known as ladybirds (though mostly in Europe), with spots, not all of them are black. Some have white spots and some don’t have spots at all!
The whole purpose for the Ladybug being brightly colored with spots is to ward off predators. The Ladybugs want to let their predators know that they taste bad and could even be poisonous. This serves as a warning sign for the predators and keeps them away.
Similar defense mechanisms are used by many other animals in the animal kingdom. Many bees present a bright yellow color with black stripes which serves as a warning for its attackers, visible from a distance too. The attackers are forewarned about the danger as a bee's sting could be potentially poisonous or fatal to them.
The same applies to the Ladybug. It releases a foul smelling and toxic alkaline substance from its body which tastes very bad to most birds and other potential predators. It’s known to be mildly poisonous to some smaller creatures, but not poisonous enough to kill most predators. Likely, it would make them sick for a while – depending on the size of predator and how many they eat.
Once the predator, such as a bird, eats its first Ladybug, it experiences a nauseous feeling from the toxins. Next time it sees the similar brightly colored body of another Ladybug with spots, it remembers what it went through and does not attack. This is a natural phenomenon known as Aposematic Coloring, and forms one of the Ladybugs Five Defense Mechanisms. This being said, there are still plenty of creatures which will hunt and eat Ladybugs.
Now we know what the spots’ defensive function is, you might wonder how Ladybugs actually got these spots and what makes them different from each other.
Wild variations mean that even white Ladybugs, Grey Ladybugs, and Black Ladybugs exist too. The number, shape, and color of the spots on their bodies have changed and evolved gradually from species to species.
The most common type of Ladybug species is the Asian Ladybug, though they are considered a pest and can "bite" and leave a foul smelling yellow liquid behind. A popular and well-liked (cute) Ladybug that is considered a garden friend is the Coccinella septempunctata. This type of Ladybug has seven spots on its body. You will find your typical red Ladybug with black spots are in this family. Although, this cute and common variety is now seriously under threat from this species!
A particular species cannot be predicted just by the number of spots on its body, however. There could be many sub-species which have the same number of spots. Many factors such as the sub-species, plus shape, and color of the body helps determine the exact final variety of the Ladybug.
The number of spots and their location are decided for a particular species and do not really visibly change over time, but may evolve further and slowly over hundreds, if not thousands of years.
They don’t gain more spots or lose spots over time unless via further genetic mutation.
Interestingly enough, Ladybugs are not born with spots, they develop them, but they are predetermined. They just don’t appear immediately... kind of like a Dalmatian.