Ladybird larvae welcome - information about the busy aphid killers

Ladybird larvae welcome - information about the busy aphid killers

the essentials in brief

  • Ladybird larvae are highly valued beneficial insects for the successful control of aphids and other pests.
  • The development from egg to adult ladybird extends over four stages with a duration of 30 to 60 days.
  • To increase the population, hobby gardeners can breed ladybird larvae themselves and put them out in the bed or on the balcony.

Ladybird larvae development - an overview in words and pictures

When ladybugs wake up from hibernation, they immediately take care of family planning. Mated ladybirds look specifically for aphid colonies and lay numerous oval, yellowish eggs there individually or in packets. Thanks to this strategy, the offspring are served their food on a silver platter. Ladybug larvae have to go through four strenuous stages of development before they appear as colorful beetles. The following overview summarizes the fascinating process:

  • 1st stage : Egg-laying at the end of April / beginning of May mostly on the underside of leaves, on needles, in cracks in trees
  • 2nd stage : hatching of the larvae after 5-10 days and beginning of feeding
  • 3rd stage : larval stage for 30-60 days with 3-4 moults as the main feeding phase with up to 100 aphids per day
  • 4th stage : Pupation for 6 to 9 days as a motionless resting phase without eating

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After pupation, the finished ladybirds hatch with a creamy yellow body color. Only after a hardening phase do adult ladybugs brag about their dots on the shiny, red, yellow or black wings and reveal their species to the viewer. The metamorphosis into beetles does not end their function as beneficial insects. Adult ladybugs also eat lice of all kinds, albeit with less appetite than their eternally hungry offspring.

ladybug larvae

Explanation of the larval stage

The most important phase for their function as beneficial insects in the natural garden is the larval stage. If the hobby gardener is not familiar with the essential identifying features, ladybird larvae are often eliminated as supposed pests. Despite numerous variations in color and shape, the caterpillars have a certain basic appearance that makes identification easier.

Usually the elongated body is widest just behind the head. A larva tapers continuously towards the end of the body. Individual body segments stand out, often covered with thorns or bristles. Strong legs are used for quick tracking of prey and active search for aphids. Ladybug larvae are often covered with a wax covering that acts as a shell against enemies such as ants, birds or frogs.

The pictures below illustrate the fascinating process from the tiny egg to the finished ladybug.

Ladybird larvae: larval development

Breeding ladybird larvae yourself - step-by-step instructions

To increase the population in the garden, you can breed and release ladybird larvae yourself. Fully equipped grow sets from specialist retailers are well suited for this purpose. As a positive side effect, you and your children can experience the development from egg to ladybug up close. The following instructions explain step by step how to breed ladybird larvae yourself and how to properly settle them in your garden:

  1. Order the breeding set between the beginning of March and the middle of September (allow 2-3 weeks in advance)
  2. Take the rearing vivarium out of the packaging and set it up in a bright, warm location at 15 ° -25 ° Celsius
  3. Place the supplied food in the freezer until use
  4. Leave the transparent jar closed until the eggs have turned into 3-4 mm larvae
  5. In the 2nd larval stage (after 2-5 days), carefully transfer the larvae into the larger box provided
  6. Immediately after moving, feed hungry larvae for the first time (defrost the food in advance)
  7. Second feeding at the end of the 3rd / beginning of the 4th instar larvae at 7-8 mm in size
  8. Important: Briefly open the lid of the rearing box for feeding and close it again immediately

After the second feeding, ladybird larvae go into the pupation phase. From this point on, the larvae no longer receive food. The metamorphosis from larva to beetle takes an average of one week. During the delicate stage, the motionless dolls must not be removed from their support or touched. If a beetle has shed its cocoon, it goes out into the great outdoors after 2 days at the latest. Ideal conditions for releasing self-bred ladybirds are temperatures around 18 ° Celsius and dry weather.


Feed ladybug larvae

Rearing kits already contain the food that ladybugs need to develop from egg to pupation. Usually these are mealworms as a substitute for natural food. Alternatively, you can feed your pupils yourself. Now the question arises: What do ladybird larvae actually eat? The following overview sheds light on the darkness:

  • Aphids
  • Scale insects
  • Mites, preferably spider mites
  • Larvae of other insects such as butterflies
  • Powdery mildew mushrooms
  • Flower pollen, preferably from marigolds, cornflowers, geraniums and all kinds of wild herbs

If food is scarce, ladybird larvae attack weaker conspecifics. Often hatched caterpillars cold-bloodedly eat all the eggs they can get hold of. You can effectively prevent cannibalism during rearing if you always have frozen mealworms in stock. If you do not have the time to collect lice in nature, feed hungry ladybug larvae with mealworms that have been thawed out beforehand.

Exposing ladybird larvae - tips & tricks

ladybug larvae

It is up to you to decide whether you want to release ladybirds from your own breeding in the larval stage. The advantage of this approach: The caterpillars come into the garden at the voracious stage of their development to hunt aphids. Disadvantage of premature resettlement: You and your children will miss the fascinating pupation process. The following tips & tricks reveal how to properly expose ladybird larvae:

  • Temperature : at least 15 ° Celsius (ideally 18 ° -22 ° Celsius)
  • Habitat : shrubs, trees, perennials and flowers with aphids
  • Means of transport : bio-box, brush, paper strips
  • Distribution rate : 10 ladybird larvae for 10 m², 20 larvae for 20 m²

Ladybug larvae are filigree creatures. Exposure in the garden requires a great deal of dexterity so that the tiny caterpillars survive the risky procedure safely. You can significantly reduce the failure rate by placing the larvae in bio-boxes made of cardboard. The roof of a box is only opened when the little residents have acclimatized after a few hours and there are suitable framework conditions at the chosen location. The bio boxes (empty) are available at, for example, at a reasonable price.


Be careful - ladybug larvae bite

When ladybird larvae hatch, they nibble through the shell with their egg teeth. These tiny teeth are lost in the first larval stage and are not a cause for concern for humans. In exchange for the harmless egg teeth, a solid mouth tool develops, which is primarily used for the quick consumption of aphids. If ladybird larvae feel threatened by humans, they have no qualms about defending themselves with a powerful bite. Human skin, of course, is too thick to be seriously damaged. In the worst case, the victims register slight pain, like after a needle stick. The culprits are mostly immigrated Asian ladybird larvae with a much more aggressive disposition than the good-natured caterpillars of native seven-spotted ladybirds.

Where can you find ladybug larvae?

ladybug larvae

The larvae of seven-spot, two-spot or harlequin ladybirds are avid aphid slaughterers. So keep an eye out for plants with aphid infestation if you want to find the beneficial insects in the wild, in the garden or on the balcony. We have compiled the most common locations of ladybird larvae below:

  • Trees : roses, elderberries, berry bushes
  • Herbs : dill, chives, caraway seeds, coriander, basil
  • Weeds : dandelions, nettles, meadow clover, red clover
  • Flowers and shrubs : poppies, cornflowers, decorative baskets, sea lavender, pelargonium

Then there are the specialists in ladybird land who settle on preferred plants. North of the Alps, for example, this is the daring seven-spotted ant ladybird (Coccinella magnifica), which is mainly found in the vicinity of anthills, i.e. in the immediate vicinity of its enemies. The mountain ladybird (Hippodamia notata) is not afraid of heights and often lives in the mountains. Other location experts reveal their preferences with the name, such as the heather ladybug (Coccinella hieroglyphica), dry grass ladybird (Coccinula quatuordecimpustulata) or coniferous ladybird (Aphidecta obliterata). It is obvious: where Mother Ladybird likes to linger, her offspring also cavort.

Recognizing common ladybug larvae - 3 types

The ladybird family is represented worldwide with more than 6000 species and countless subspecies. Even experienced entomologists will get dizzy in view of the impressive diversity of species with thousands upon thousands of pattern variants. At the same time, ladybird larvae look very similar, because the telltale wing dots as an indicator of species affiliation are only formed in the adult ladybird. If you look closely, you will still recognize important distinguishing features. The following table provides important information for identification of the three most common ladybird larvae species:

Seven-point ladybug larvaeTwo-point ladybug larvaeAsian ladybug larvae
Scientific nameCoccinella septempunctataAdalia bipunctataHarmonia axyridis
Popular nameLucky bugTwo pointharlequin
coloringgray, gray-blue, brown, yellowdark gray to light grayyellow-green, later black to blue-gray
drawinglateral dark-colored spots, colored headspotless or up to 7 blemishes, dark headorange spots on both sides, black-gray head

Reliable, serious statements on the size of ladybird larvae as a distinguishing feature are not possible. The information in the specialist literature ranges from 1.5 to 15 millimeters. Naturally, the larvae grow in size and length as they go through the four stages of development.

ladybug larvae

Special case of Australian ladybird larvae

Australian ladybird larvae (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri), also popularly known as white ladybird larvae, hold a special position. As the common name suggests, the bodies are mostly light to white in color, which makes a striking difference to native and Asian species.

White ladybug larvae are only viable at temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius and a humidity of at least 50 percent. Mealybugs and mealybugs are on the larvae's menu. Aphids, however, are spurned. These properties qualify Australian ladybird larvae for biological pest control in living spaces and winter gardens. If cacti, orchids and other houseplants suffer from a white covering, the beneficial insects are happy to take on the problem with great appetite.


Ants are bitter enemies of ladybird larvae. The rich excretions of aphids represent an important source of food for an ant colony. For this reason, ant soldiers defend an aphid colony with all their might. The thick wax shell offers the caterpillars good protection against corrosive formic acid. Nevertheless, the powerful ants succeed time and again in pushing or killing ladybird larvae from the leaves. In contrast, the hostile hordes of ants are at a loss against adult ladybirds.

Prevent ladybird plague in good time

Large numbers of ladybird larvae in the garden are not always a source of pure joy. In fact, tons of eggs, larvae and pupae herald an autumn beetle plague. In October and November, adult ladybirds gather in large swarms to look out for safe winter quarters. In the absence of natural places of retreat, the beetles invade houses, apartments, hallways or roller shutter boxes and make themselves unpopular as a winter beetle plague. The beetles often have to pay for their act of desperation with their lives, because dry, warm heating air is usually fatal.

ladybug larvae

Foresighted hobby gardeners don't let it get that far and offer ladybirds who are looking for accommodation in late autumn suitable winter quarters. The following options have proven themselves well in gardening practice as recommended retreats for the cold season:

  • Premium solution: Build or buy a ladybug house yourself and hang it up
  • Natural option: pile up piles of leaves or piles of wood, leave rotted tree stumps lying around
  • Simple winter help: stop mowing the lawn in autumn, leave shrubs in the bed

Low temperatures are essential for ladybugs to survive. So that the lucky beetles can fall into winter rigor, cozy and warm rooms with dry heating air are unsuitable. If ladybugs have found their way into the house, careful relocation outside can save the lives of the valuable beneficial insects.

frequently asked Questions

How do ladybird larvae develop? How many stages are there?

When the tiny ladybug larvae hatch from their egg, they first eat the nutritious shell with their tiny egg teeth. The caterpillars already have six nimble legs for hunting aphids and other prey. Ladybird larvae go through a total of four stages of development. To reach the next stage, the larvae stop feeding for a short time. The caterpillars attach their abdomen to a surface and shed their skin. After molting, ladybird larvae stretch and grow to a new size. In the fourth and final stage, pupation into the finished ladybird is on the program.

Can ladybug larvae bite?

Yes, the larvae of Asian harlequin ladybirds mainly bite when they feel threatened. For this purpose, the caterpillars have powerful mouthparts that they use to plaster their favorite prey aphids and scale insects. A bite is of course not painful or dangerous. The human epidermis is too thick to cause serious damage. Furthermore, ladybird larvae are not poisonous.

We would like to breed ladybird larvae ourselves. How does it work?

You can buy breeding sets for ladybird larvae in specialist shops. This includes either about 100 eggs or 10 to 15 larvae in the first or second stage of development as well as the necessary food until hatching as finished ladybugs. The Hagemann breeding set, for example, has the larvae of two-point ladybirds in its luggage, which have proven to be particularly voracious aphid hunters. The rearing vivarium included in the set can be reused for breeding additional ladybird larvae.

What do ladybug larvae prefer to eat?

ladybug larvae

At the top of the ladybug larvae menu are aphids. The caterpillars do not disdain other types of lice, such as scale insects, mealybugs and mealybugs. The latter are mainly targeting white ladybird larvae from Australia. If aphids are rare in the garden, the caterpillars expand their range of prey to include bedbugs, butterfly larvae, insect eggs and soft-shelled insects. In addition, ladybug larvae like to eat pollen from wildflowers and herbs.

Are ladybug larvae harmful?

The extent to which ladybird larvae can be harmful is controversial among experts. Native species such as the seven-point or two-point ladybird are above suspicion. On the other hand, the massive spread of Asian ladybird larvae for biological pest control is viewed critically. Since immigration in the 1980s, harlequin ladybirds have settled across Europe. Experts fear that the aggressive immigrants will displace native species in the long term. Field observations and laboratory tests prove that seven-point and two-point always lose out in confrontations.

We breed ladybird larvae ourselves, which are currently in the second larval stage. The caterpillars no longer eat and hang motionless in the vivarium. Are all larvae dead?

No, the ladybird larvae are not dead. Rather, the caterpillars are in the transition phase from one larval stage to the next. During this time they do not eat any food and remain motionless on a solid surface. Now the beneficial insects concentrate on slipping out of their old, much too tight skin as quickly as possible. After the moult, you can enjoy stretching. In a new size, the hungry ladybird larvae actively search for food.


With a flowering natural garden, you send the perfect, non-verbal invitation to ladybugs and their larvae. Where wild herbs, local perennials, fruit and ornamental trees bloom side by side, the dotted aphid killers are not far. If hobby gardeners consistently refrain from using pesticides, ladybird ladies like to consider beds and balconies as a nursery.