Fifteen-Spotted Giant Lady Beetle

2011 October 8

On June 25, 2011, I was unlocking my bike to ride home from work when I spotted a large, dark lady beetle on a grass stem. So I caught it in one of the little jars that I carry with me, brought it home, and put it on the table until I had a chance to get pictures. At which point, Rosie picked up the jar and wanted to get a closer look, so she opened it. And the beetle promptly flew away up to the ceiling. Well, I couldn’t reach it there, so I figured that it would tend to hang around the windows and would eventually come down where I could reach it again. Which sort of happened, but not the way I expected:

The spider was a cobweb-weaver that was hanging around the lower corner of the window, and was obviously a very good hunter. I’ll get back to her at a later date.

So, with all the swathing, it was hard to see details, but from the size (about a centimeter) I figured it was one of the Giant Lady Beetles, genus Anatis. And from the color (reddish brown to almost black), it looks like an elderly specimen, because the lady beetles in this genus get progressively darker as they age.

Then, on July 20, 2011, it was time to harvest fruit from our mulberry tree, so we put a couple of tarpaulins on the ground under it, and shook the tree violently to knock off the ripe fruit[1]. In the process, we also shook out a bunch of insects that were in the tree, including these:

There were a lot of them, we actually caught at least half a dozen and probably at least that many more wandered off while we were washing and sorting the berries.

These were young enough to see details, and they are clearly fifteen-spotted lady beetles, Anatis labiculata. There aren’t a lot of other white lady beetles with black spots, especially not this large.

And they do in fact have fifteen spots on their wing covers: fourteen on the main body of the wing covers, and one at the point where the wing covers meet and connect to the body.

Like the eye-spotted lady beetle that I posted earlier, these lady beetles are generally arboreal, living in trees where they feed on aphids and the like. I’d say the fact that we found so many in our mulberry tree seems to bear out their tendency to live in trees. Also, adult lady beetles aren’t restricted to eating aphids, they will also consume sweets, such as fruit juices. Mulberries are pretty juicy when they are ripe, so these beetles may have been there more to lick fruit than to eat aphids.

Along with all the pale specimens, we also found one that was slightly smaller, and significantly darker (and therefore probably older). It looks almost exactly like that first one that the spider ate. The dark ones have the same white markings behind the head as the pale ones, though, and they are therefore probably all the same species:

If you look closely, you can still see the spots very faintly.

I think that the dark ones had probably overwintered, and the one from the tree may even be a parent of some of the pale ones. I’m not quite sure how long an adult lady beetle can live, but it could be that an adult could potentially live to see several generations of its offspring grow up.

[1] Picking mulberries[2] one at a time is very tedious. They are about the size of a small wild blackberry, and it takes forever to get many. But when they get ripe, it doesn’t take much to knock them loose from the tree. By shaking the tree, we were able to get about two gallons of fruit in about fifteen minutes. The only downside was that I had to stand directly under the tree to shake it properly. I ended up getting a lot of berries down my collar and running down my back.

[2] Back when we lived in town, there was a mulberry tree just a block from our house, and we developed a taste for them (the owner of the tree didn’t want the berries, and so we had permission to pick as many as we could). So, when we moved out of town, we planted two mulberry trees in the front yard. It was touch-and-go for the young trees the first few years (the second year the trees were almost killed by a late frost, and the deer kept eating them back until they finally got tall enough that the tops were too high to eat)[3]. They finally got established, though, and started bearing fruit after about eight years.

The question people keep asking about them is, “what do you do with the fruit?” Well, I like to use them in pies and fruit cobbler. They have a nice, mild flavor, and don’t need much sugar to be added (I only add about a half-cup of sugar to about four cups of mulberries, as compared to the almost two cups of sugar per four cups of sour cherries that cherry-pie recipes call for). Mulberries are especially good mixed with more-tart pie fillings like sour cherries or rhubarb – the sour ingredients give the pie a bit more zest, while the mulberries provide bulk and sweetness, and reduce the amount of sugar that you have to add by moderating the sourness of the other fruit.

[3] After years of difficulty with deer, we now routinely put wire-mesh cages around all of the new fruit trees that we plant. These are made from heavy-duty woven-wire livestock fencing, and are cylinders about 2-3 feet in diameter and 5 feet tall. This is enough to keep the deer from eating all of our trees back to a nubbin, which is what always used to happen. The fence also provides support to keep the young trees from being crushed by the snow in the winter – the snow normally settles as it melts and drags down any plants embedded in it, but the fencing supports the snow and holds it up until it melts.

4 Responses
  1. October 13, 2011

    Great post as always! How in the world does a spider penetrate the shell of the lady beetle to kill it?

  2. October 13, 2011

    I think that they can drive their fangs into the joints between the armor plates, and if they can’t get into the body proper they may actually be able to inject sufficient venom into the legs to eventually kill the beetle. Of course, that only works because they have the webbing to truss up the beetle to make it hold still while all this is going on.

  3. October 24, 2011

    Finding those joints must take forever. I wonder how often fangs get broken off when they miss.

  4. Hannah R. permalink
    May 5, 2018

    Thank you for this! I found one of these black beetles crawling on my leg today so it helpful to know these things and that they’re not poisonous!

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