Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:55 pm
Ladybugs (Coccinellidae) are found worldwide with about 6,000 species. Not all species have red wings with black spots. In Europe alone, there are about 100 species of ladybugs. The best known is the seven-spotted ladybug. It can be dangerous for the pretty lucky charms in winter, when they wake up from their hibernation due to temperature fluctuations and go in search of food. What ladybugs eat and how you can feed them in this case, you can learn here.
Ladybugs in winter
For most ladybug species, aphids and other small pests such as mites and scale insects are the main food source. Given the right supply, the spotted beetles can eat between 50 and 100 aphids per day. Basically, though, the question of what spotted beetles eat is a bit more complex. For example, there are species that are more vegetarian by nature. Others feed on fungi such as powdery mildew or eat leaves from certain plants.
Ladybugs belong to the group of cold-blooded animals that need warmth from outside to reach the right body temperature. When cool temperatures set in during the fall, it signals to the insects that it is time to find a warmer place to spend the winter. To do this, they often congregate in larger groups, as many animals provide better protection from the elements. In addition to the low temperature, the lack of suitable food is also the reason ladybugs hibernate. Since their main food source is not available at this time, they have no choice but to wait it out.
- Time: varies depending on weather conditions
- around the middle of October
- usually several animals together
By the way, did you know that ladybugs cannot fly when the temperature is below 13 °C?
Feeding during hibernation
At cool temperatures, the insects’ metabolism slows down, causing them to fall into a kind of rigor mortis. During this dormant phase, they feed exclusively on the fat reserves they have accumulated over the summer. Since the beetles dry out quickly during hibernation, they prefer to seek out damp, almost wet, quarters for the resting phase.
Note: If temperatures rise above 8 °C for a few days, the beetles awaken from hibernation and go in search of food.
Interruption of hibernation
As with most insects that hibernate, it is common for ladybugs to slowly become active again towards the end of winter, searching for food to regain their strength. This is perfectly normal. It is less ideal if the animals wake up in the middle of the winter months due to excessively warm weather conditions. In this case, the metabolism is boosted, but the beetles cannot find suitable food to survive. Another cold snap also puts them at risk of freezing to death.
Especially in late fall, but also in early spring, there is a risk that the Ladybugs will suddenly awaken from their hibernation. Therefore, in search of a warmer place, they are often found near houses or in the apartment. To prevent the animals from starving or dying of thirst, they depend on help. In a pinch, however, the pretty red beetles can manage without aphids. If food is scarce, predatory species eat plant food. This is often pollen or even fruit. Therefore, you can feed them with some foods that are available in almost every household.
A good source of food in the cold season is honey. If you do not have honey in the house, sugar water is also possible as an alternative. As the name suggests, for this you add some sugar to a small amount of water, creating a viscous solution. You can dose the food with an eyedropper on the leaf of a plant on which the animals stay. It has also proved useful to put a few drops in a crown cap.
In winter it is also possible to feed the ladybugs with raisins. To do this, soak a few raisins in water for a few minutes and then cut them in half. Since raisins dry out quickly, replace them with fresh ones every two days. Since raisins also contain a high amount of sugar, they provide the beetles with a good portion of energy and additional vitamins. Generally, the little beetles will also eat other dried fruits as long as they have a high water and sugar content.
- Homemade fruit jelly
As a little treat, you can add a little fruit jelly or jam to the dried fruit. Homemade products or even jellies of organic quality are harmless. Be sure to use jelly from fruits with low acidity. Good choices are:
- Note: On the other hand, cherries, currants or even rhubarb are too acidic.
Larvae or eggs of smaller insects are a welcome food source for Coccinellidae. If you ask at a specialty store, you may be able to get some mealworm eggs or other alternatives. Make sure that the food is sterilized and that you use only those species that cannot become a nuisance in the house.
Pureed meat with sugar water
Admittedly, this food option is a bit costly for a single ladybug. However, if you have a whole population in the house or garden, you can also offer this food to the beetles.
Tree bark or dead wood
If you live near a forest, you can take a piece of dead wood from there. Even in winter, the wood of rotting trees is full of larvae and microorganisms that can serve as a food source for ladybugs.
Suitable food containers
Food and drink for the Coccinellidae must be presented in a size-appropriate manner so that the small beetles can take it in the best possible way. Therefore, give them only a few drops or small pieces of food at a time and prefer to change the food more frequently. As suitable vessels have proven themselves:
- Crown caps from beer bottles
- small, flat plates
- small, curved leaves (as bowls)
A weatherproof “feeder” is easy to build yourself. For this purpose, you can use almost any tubular object, be it made of metal, plastic, or even of natural origin, such as thicker bamboo canes. Cardboard and paper are not very suitable, as they soften when wet and rainy. Put some soaked raisins inside and position the feeding stick in a protected place near the ladybugs. You can also hang the stick. A good feeder will not only provide food for the ladybugs, but also shelter and protection.
Almost more important than feeding the lady bug is offering them something to drink. The little beetles will quickly dry out if they can’t find a drinking source after resting. To do this, dose a drop of water near the animal with an eyedropper. If the ladybug is sitting on a plant, you can also spray it generously with the flower sprayer. Alternatively, put a few drops of water on a crown cap. However, do not fill the container too high, otherwise the beetle could drown in it. Cotton balls or small sponges moistened with water have also proven effective.
While you can feed the pretty bugs indoors during the winter, it is unlikely that the insects will survive until the end of winter. They absolutely must go back outside to continue their hibernation. So if they do stray into your apartment, do them a favor by moving them back outside. However, you should only do this when temperatures are still well above freezing and no severe frosts are expected.
- If the beetle is currently active, it will not survive the transition from the warm apartment to outside in the winter cold.
- Place the ladybug(s) in a small cardboard box in which you have stuffed newspaper, leaves or wood chips. There must be ventilation holes in the box large enough for the beetle(s) to get out at any time.
- To tide them over, the carton should have a small portion to eat and drink.
- Place the box in a cool, but frost-free location that also includes an escape to the outdoors (open window or door) so that the lucky beetles can get outside in the spring.
Tip: You can put the box in the refrigerator for a few days to induce hibernation. But do not forget the little beetles there!