Besides you, the gardener, that is. We are enduring record snows this month in Colorado. We’re thrilled for the moisture but weekly snowstorms have delayed our gardening season significantly. As soon as the snow melted in my yard, one of the long-sleeping dandelions woke up and put out its first dandelion flower. Yippee. We’ve been worried about the cold and not having dandelions because they are often one of the first significant food sources for pollinators like bees. Our bees haven’t had natural food since last November and their food stores of honey are likely used up.
It’s not just bees we’ve been worried about going hungry…it’s all the pollinators that are normally awake by now. Yesterday I got to see my favorite pollinator/beneficial insect/overall cute and entertaining bug in the garden – the Ladybug. I was cleaning out leaf debris under roses and out crawled a rather groggy little ladybug.
“Snow’s coming” I hollered, “Go back to bed.” That’s because I wrongly thought that ladybugs just ate other bugs like aphids….and I knew I hadn’t seen any aphids. As usual….nature has a better plan than I knew. It turns out that ladybugs overwinter as adults….they do a quasi-hibernation called “diapause” and wake up when the days start getting longer or warmer. Naturally, after their diapause, they’re hungry….and they like to eat pollen and insects eggs (like aphid or mite eggs, yeah!) I think these two ladybugs chose this place to winter because it’s a rose garden, so there were lots of aphids in the summer and lots of aphid eggs now. In the Fall, oregano flowers provided pollen and nectar well into November. And then little crocus and violets and dandelions open early in the Spring. Without a human really planning it, there was a great ladybug habitat here….big leaves to hide under so the birds didn’t eat the ladybugs…and spring flowers for food.
What’s really important to remember about ladybugs is that they don’t always look like what we think of as ladybugs. Right now they have cute black spots on red shells, but soon, the babies these ladybugs have made will be larva and look less cute. Don’t accidentally kill the larval forms of the ladybugs….they’ll grow into adults that you recognize. And the baby larvae eat lots and lots of the bad bugs we don’t want.
So here’s what to watch for in the coming months: ladybugs under leaves, ladybugs on early spring flowers and dandelions, and gnarly exotic looking ladybug larvae!
We love our pollinators….especially the cute ones.
University of California, http://pixdaus.com/ladybug-on-dandelion-dandoline-ladybeetle-ladybug-weevil/items/view/150853/