How to Tell The Difference Between Native US and Asian Ladybugs

You probably already know that ladybugs are beneficial insects that are good for our gardens. These brightly colored beetles are easily recognized by their bright colors and black spots. But did you know that there are more than 5000 species of ladybugs around the world? In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen compares the most common native and non-native ladybugs in the United States.

The native ladybug has larger and not many distinct black spots on an orange background, while the Asian lady beetle has a red background with frequent black spots.

Contents

Ladybugs conjure up images of bright red beetles with black spots. And while it’s true that many species of ladybugs are red with black spots, they come in an array of different colors and patterns. In fact, there are thousands of different species around the world, and hundreds of these call North America home. They are all members of the Coccinellidae family of beetles.

If you spot a ladybug in the wild, there’s a good chance it’s one of the introduced species. Non-native ladybugs have mostly replaced native species throughout most of the United States. Depending on where you live, some species will naturally be more abundant than others. Next time you see a ladybug in your garden or in your house, take a closer look at its colors and spotting patterns and see if you can tell which species of ladybug it might be.

Most ladybugs are beneficial insects and great to have in your garden. They are predators of many garden pests, with their favorite prey item being aphids. There are a few species of ladybug that eat plants and even a few that consume fungus but for the most part, they are predatory insects that feed on other insects.

If you’re interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures, read on for some in-depth ladybug details, including how to tell the difference between the most common native and Asian ladybug beetles.

Why it Matters

Hippodamia convergens is small and rounded with a reddish-orange body and black spots, seen crawling on Lupinus arboreus.
Create a welcoming habitat to support native ladybugs in your yard.

Native ladybugs are wonderful insects to have in the environment and in your yard. One of the easiest things you can do to help ladybugs and other beneficial insects is to avoid using unnecessary pesticides. Excessive use of pesticides kills not only harmful insects but beneficial insects as well. 

Several species of non-native ladybugs have been widely introduced to the United States as pest control. It’s true that these non-native beetles will eat some garden pests, but they also compete directly with the native species. Don’t buy non-native ladybugs to release in your garden. Rather, try to create a welcoming habitat where native species will come and stay in your yard.

Ladybug Life Cycle

Close-up of a bunch of small oval yellow eggs next to a ladybug on a green leaf in the garden.
Understand the ladybug’s lifecycle stages for accurate identification and care.

Before we launch into identification, let’s look at the basic ladybug life cycle. No matter what species of ladybug you’re looking at, they all develop in four different stages. It’s important to recognize ladybugs in their different stages so you won’t accidentally mistake them for something undesirable. 

Egg

Close-up of a bunch of yellow oval ladybug eggs on the underside of a green leaf.
Eggs laid on leaves hatch into clusters of tiny, spotted larvae.

They generally lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. The eggs are tiny, yellowish, or orange ovals and appear in clusters of five to 5-30. After three to 10 days, the eggs hatch into tiny larvae.

Larva

The ladybug larva is elongated, with a segmented body covered in small spines, black with orange markings, resembling a tiny alligator.
Newly hatched larvae quietly hunt small insects before maturing visibly.

When the larvae first hatch, they are only a few millimeters long, and you probably won’t notice them. At this stage, they are voracious predators and immediately start looking for aphids and other small, soft-bodied insects to feed upon.

They quickly grow to about one centimeter long. The larvae of the most common species look like little six-legged black alligators with bright orange markings. Ladybugs stay in the larval stage for three to five weeks.

Pupa

The ladybug pupa is oval-shaped and yellowish-orange in color, with distinct black markings and short spines covering its body.
The larva transforms into a pupa, resembling an orange-spotted case.

When a ladybug larva is ready to morph into an adult ladybug, it goes through a pupa stage. During this stage, the mobile larva settles down on a leaf or stem and begins to slowly change into an immobile pupa. The pupa looks like a rounded orange case with black spots. It stays in this stage for up to two weeks before finally emerging as the familiar winged adult beetle. 

Adult

The ladybug crawls along a hairy green leaf; it is small and rounded, adorned with bright red wing covers marked with black spots.
Ladybugs are recognized by their colorful elytra and prolific reproduction.

Adult ladybugs have six legs and two antennae. They are most easily recognized and identified by their hard outer wings (called elytra) which bear their distinguishing patterns of colors and spots.

A second set of softer inner flight wings are what the ladybug actually uses to fly. An adult ladybug can live up to a year. During the adult stage, they eat a lot of aphids, and a female can lay up to one thousand eggs in her lifetime.

A Rainbow Assortment of Ladybugs

Harmonia axyridis is round and has a black background with orange spots.
There’s an incredible diversity of colors and patterns among species.

Fun fact: There are between 5000 and 6000 species around the world, and approximately 500 species are native to North America. With this many species, it should be no surprise that they all look a bit different. Most are round or oval-shaped with a hard, rounded, glossy appearance.  They all have six legs and generally have fairly short antennae.

Ladybug colors and patterns are amazingly varied. Some are red with white spots, while others are red with black spots. Some are entirely black, while others are white with black spots. Some are black and yellow or varying shades of orange. The spots may be large or small, absent or numerous. There’s simply no single way to describe a ladybug. 

Native Ladybugs

Close-up of an oval-shaped Hippodamia convergens with a red background and black dots on the surface.
The iconic red insect with black spots spans North and Central America.

The most easily recognizable native ladybug in the United States is called the convergent ladybug (Hippodamia convergen). This is the classic red ladybug with black spots that most people easily recognize as a ladybug. Convergent ladybugs are native and widespread throughout North America and Central America. 

Size

Typically, the native ladybug is between ¼ and ⅓ inch long, generally a bit smaller than the Asian ladybug.

Color

They range from orange to bright red.

Black Spots

These native beetles typically have anywhere from zero to 12 black spots. Most commonly, they have 6 spots on each of elytra (hard outer wings) for a total of 12 spots. There is also sometimes an additional black spot shared between the two elytra just behind the thorax.

White Markings

The convergent ladybug has two distinct white lines or spots on the black thorax behind the head. The thorax is also typically lined with a white border. This is perhaps the easiest way to distinguish the native ladybug from the non-native species because these white markings are more consistent than the number of black spots.

Asian Ladybugs

Close-up of an Asian lady beetle, orange in color and covered in black dots, crawling along a stem infested with a swarm of black aphids.
The multicolored Asian beetle dominates as a pest-control species.

The Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis), also known as the harlequin or multicolored Asian lady beetle, is the most common ladybug in the United States. This beetle is native to Asia and was introduced as a pest control but it has since outcompeted native ladybug species. Asian species are highly variable, although they have some fairly consistent characteristics. 

Size

They are larger than some of the other species, with a mature size of about ⅓ inch long. They are typically a bit bigger and chunkier looking than the native ladybug, though this may be difficult to see unless you are doing a direct side-by-side comparison.

Color

They are generally dark orange to red with black spots. Some are black with red spots.

Black Spots

The number of spots can vary from zero to 22. 19 spots is a common number, but you’ll have to look carefully to see them all!

“M” or “W”

Just behind the tiny head is the thorax. The Asian ladybug often has a distinct black marking here that can resemble an “M” or a “W” (depending on which way you look at it). This may be one of the easiest ways to distinguish the Asian ladybug from other species, which lack this black marking behind the head.

Seven Spotted Ladybug

Close-up of Coccinella septempunctata, commonly known as the seven-spot ladybird, is small and round with bright red wing covers adorned with seven distinctive black spots.
This ladybug is a versatile gardener’s ally turned invader.

The seven spotted ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata) is native to Europe and Asia. it was introduced to control aphids and other garden pests, but it is now considered an invasive species, easily outcompeting the native ladybug species. It is the most common ladybug species in Europe and is now widespread across the United States.

Size

Seven spotted ladybugs can be fairly large, ranging in size from ⅓ to ½ inch.

Color

This ladybug is generally bright red with prominent black spots.

Black Spots:

The seven spotted ladybug does, indeed, typically have seven black spots, three on each wing and one in the middle, just behind the thorax.

White Spots

One distinguishing characteristic of the seven spotted ladybug is that it often has two pronounced white spots on either side of the thorax (the black part just behind the head) and another two spots just behind the thorax on the upper wings.

Benefits of Beneficial Insects

Close-up of a red-orange ladybug with two black spots on its back feeding on black aphids on the stems of a plant.
Insects like ladybugs play crucial roles in natural pest control.

Beneficial insects help gardeners and the broader natural environment in many ways. Beneficial insects act as pollinators to ensure that many crops produce abundant fruits. Some beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, dragonflies, and lacewings, are predatory, eating vast numbers of harmful insect pests. Other beneficial insects provide environmental services, such as breaking down decaying plant matter and helping maintain a healthy soil system.

Ladybugs are beneficial insects perhaps best known for munching on aphids, but they eat other insects as well. They are known to eat aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, beetle larvae, and tiny mites. When you have insect pests attacking your plants, they come to the rescue to help control the populations of these destructive pests. 

Gardening for Ladybugs

Close-up of a ladybug and a couple of midges crawling on chamomile blossoms in the garden on a green blurry background.
Attract beneficial insects by planting their favorite flowers in your garden.

There are a few ways you can encourage native ladybugs and other beneficial insects to visit your landscape. They eat both insects and pollen, so you’ll want to provide some of each if you really want to attract them. 

Attract ladybugs to your garden by planting some of their favorite plants. They seem especially drawn to plants with flat flowering umbels, such as yarrow, dill, and fennel. They will also enjoy nectar-rich pollinator favorites such as cosmos, coreopsis, and sweet alyssum. 

Ultimately, ladybugs are attracted to insect pests, particularly aphids. So, if you want them to come and hang out in your garden, don’t attempt to kill all the aphids you see. You’ll not only reduce their most valuable food source, but you’ll also probably harm other beneficial insects in the process.

Ladybug Lookalikes

There are a few other common beetles out there that look a lot like predatory ladybugs but aren’t.

Cucumber beetle

The cucumber beetle is a small, elongated beetle with a yellowish-green body, adorned with black spots.
Watch out for cucumber beetles, destructive pests damaging garden plants.

This beetle has an oblong, oval-shaped body. It may be striped or spotted. If you see an oblong greenish or yellowish beetle with black spots or stripes and long antennae, there’s a chance it’s a cucumber beetle, especially if it’s munching on your plants. Unlike ladybugs, which are beneficial insects, cucumber beetles are destructive pests that chew holes in the flowers and leaves of squash, pumpkin, watermelon, and cucumber plants. 

Mexican bean beetle

The Mexican bean beetle is a small, rounded beetle with an orange shell featuring black spots and spines.
These beetles damage crops.

This ladybug relative is native to Mexico, but it has spread widely throughout the eastern United States. These common garden pests look very much like other ladybugs with their black-spotted orange wings. These beetles cause serious crop damage. You’re likely to see them chewing holes in the leaves, flowers, and pods of your bean plants. Ladybugs eat multiple life stages of these beetles, keeping their populations under control. 

Squash lady beetle

The squash lady beetle is a small, round beetle with a yellow body and black spots.
Keep an eye out for squash lady beetles damaging squash plants.

These ladybug relatives are garden pests that feast on the leaves and flowers of your squash plants. They tend to be bright yellow-orange with numerous black spots. If you see these beetles chewing holes in your squash plants, they’re the squash lady beetle, a native nuisance species.

Asparagus beetle

The spotted asparagus beetle is a small, elongated beetle with an orange body and distinct black spots on its wing covers.
Colorful asparagus beetles harm crops by feeding on asparagus plants.

These brightly colored beetles feed on asparagus and cause serious damage to your asparagus crop. Asparagus beetles are bright red with bold black markings, but they are more elongated than ladybugs, especially if you take a close look. They have distinctly different body shapes.

Final Thoughts

Most species of ladybug are beneficial insects that eat other insects. You can attract ladybugs and other beneficial insects to your yard by creating a welcoming environment for them to visit, reproduce, and stay around your yard and garden. Think twice before buying and releasing non-native species into your yard because they will compete with the natives, and there’s no guarantee they’ll actually hang around for long.

The more you can learn about ladybugs, the more you’ll appreciate these fascinating and brightly colored beetles. Remember that the native types have two white lines behind their heads, and the Asian ladybugs have a white “M” shape. So the next time you see a ladybug, see if you can count its spots and look for some distinguishing characteristics to help you identify it!

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