Lady beetle – Mulsantina picta

2007 December 15

One of the feral apple trees about 100 yards behind the house has very “late” apples, that stay on the tree a loooong time. As in, as of now (mid-December, with a couple of feet of snow on the ground), it still has some apples that were too high for the deer to eat. The apples were actually getting ripe in mid-October, and one of them that I picked to eat had a deep crevice in its surface[1]. Down in the bottom of the crevice was this beetle:

Mulsantina Picta Full Body

There is no scale grid in this picture, because this was an active little beetle that wouldn’t stay still, so I had to get quick shots as it scampered all over my microscope stage. It was the standard size for a lady beetle, though (about 7-8 mm long). The underside was difficult, it was hard to flip over, and once upside down would flail around and right itself within a few seconds:


The wing covers were the easiest part to photograph clearly, so I did.

M.picta wing covers

Based on the rather distinctive coloration and patterning, this is evidently Mulsantina picta, one of the “native” lady beetles. It isn’t the standard “Orange/Red Beetle with Black Spots” that one normally thinks of when you picture a lady beetle, but that’s what it is.

Lady beetles are well-known to be carnivorous, mostly eating aphids, so what was it doing rooting aound in an apple? There are several possibilities. It may have been eating small insects attracted to the apple, or just looking for a place to hibernate (and chose badly). The food source of Mulsantina pictais uncertain, but it probably eats the same sorts of things as other lady beetles.  While lady beetle larvae are strictly carnivores, the adults also eat nectar, honeydew, and pollen, and so it is possible that this one may have actually been drinking the apple juices or eating the apple.

This particular species of lady beetle doesn’t seem to have been studied much, so there isn’t really a lot further I can say that isn’t just a general discussion of lady beetles. At any rate, it is nice to see that the Asian Multicolored Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis)[3] hasn’t pushed all the other lady beetles out of the area yet. Not that it matters that much, I suppose, seeing as how all lady beetles seem to be occupying pretty much the same ecologial niche and may very well be practically interchangeable. It is still nice to have some variety, though. And at least Mulsantina picta has the good grace to find somewhere other than our house to hibernate.

[1] We had a very dry summer, followed by about 8 inches of rain in September. Most of the apples on this tree had split, making crevices, and I think this is what happened: the apples originally grew with a shortage of water, so were a bit dry. But then, just before they ripened fully, the tree got this huge influx of water, which got pumped into the apples to bring up their moisture content. Since this happened fast, and the skins had already stopped growing, this meant that the apples split open. They still tasted pretty good, though[2].

[2] Feral apples are interesting. You never know what you are going to get. Some of our 20+ feral apple trees have very sweet, crisp fruit; some have small, tart fruit; some have soft, mealy fruit that makes nice applesauce; and some have these hard little fruit that taste like lightly-vinegared cotton. And they start ripening in the middle of August, but the last fruit doesn’t fall until, well, sometimes until now, or even until spring. And when they hang on the trees until spring, you know what starts eating them around the end of March or the beginning of April? Robins! Although, I suppose the robins might be eating bugs that are in the apples, and not the apples themselves.

[3] I already posted about the Asian lady beetles in the third arthropod entry I ever made, but looking back at it, I see that it lacks a lot of detail. Well, the Asian lady beetles infest our house every winter (in fact, I see one crawling around on the window right now), so at some point I should either enhance that entry or make a new one.

4 Responses
  1. December 18, 2007

    lightly-vinegared cotton

    …I’m still trying to wrap my head around what that must taste like. 🙂

  2. December 21, 2007

    Great photos and enlightening story. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to get them and share them with us.

  3. December 21, 2007

    Andy: Well, I can tell you one thing, they don’t taste good

    K T Cat: Glad you like them!

  4. October 7, 2009

    I have been finding hundreds of these insects in my apples. Mostly on the ground, but they don’t seem to mind uping up into the tree and starting a nest in an apple up there. I went after some wasplike insects with a flame torch and that killed a lot of these insects too. Better than insecticides on my ready to pick apples.

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