Ladybugs: A Metaphor for Life

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…

As I was thinking about this post about ladybugs, a nursery rhyme I learned as a child kept popping into my head: Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home…

I couldn’t remember if there was more. So, I googled it.

There is more, and as is often the case with old nursery rhymes, the rest is rather dark.

British version (where they’re called ladybirds):

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home!
Your house is on fire, your children all gone,
All but one, and her name is Ann,
And she crept under the pudding pan.

https://wordsforlife.org.uk/activities/ladybird-nursery-rhyme/

American version:

Ladybug!  Ladybug!
Fly away home.
Your house is on fire.
And your children all gone.

All except one,
And that’s little Ann,
For she crept under
The frying pan.

https://www.dltk-teach.com/rhymes/ladybug/index.htm

According to Wikipedia there are other versions of the child’s name and what she hid under to survive, but otherwise the rhyme is the same.

One website said the line “Your house is on fire” likely referred to farmers burning their fields in autumn, the beetles losing their natural habitat.

This all reminds me of the shock I had in college when I learned the meaning behind another nursery rhyme I learned as a child:

Ring-a-round the rosie,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.

Turns out that little ditty likely refers to the 17th century’s bubonic plague in England and the red rashes on the skin of sufferers. Posies were an herbal remedy that helped mask the stench of the disease.

I remember as small children we held hands and pranced in a circle, chanting that rhyme, falling to the ground as quickly as possible after the last line, the last one to hit the ground the loser. Which is ironic, as in real life, they’d be considered the winner, living longer.

Is it any wonder so many of us are screwed up emotionally, growing up with these ghoulish nursery rhymes?

***

Back to ladybugs.

Coccinellidae (/ˌkɒksɪˈnɛlɪˌdiː/) is a widespread family of small beetles ranging in size from 0.8 to 18 mm (1⁄32–23⁄32 in). The family is commonly known as ladybugs in North America and ladybirds in Great Britain and other parts of the English-speaking world. Entomologists prefer the names ladybird beetles or lady beetles as these insects are not classified as true bugs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coccinellidae
Ladybug/Ladybird. Photo: http://www.allwallpapersfree.org

Many years ago, on an overnight camping trip with friends in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, I learned something startling (to me, anyway) about ladybugs and their life cycle, including hibernation. I wrote about it here, with photos of the terrain.  

Trust me, they’re fascinating insects, worth knowing about.

Here’s the reason ladybugs have been on my mind lately: they’ve been invading my house!

For much of September I saw them on my home’s exterior. I watched Black-capped Chickadees eye them from my deck’s railing before flying right up to my window screens and house siding to pick them off, along with other insects. Fascinating.

Many days I’d find a few ladybugs inside my house – climbing the windows or flying toward them. Open a door and in they flew. Turns out they’re not shy, either, landing on me or the dogs (much to their annoyance).

Whenever possible, when found inside I turned the laydbugs on their backs (they’re really hard to pick up, otherwise), cradled them in my hand, and escorted them outside, tossing them into the air and watching their wings expand from under their red shells to fly away… probably landing on my house’s exterior, again. At least I tried.

One afternoon, near sunset, as I noticed the beautiful fall colors of leaves on Red Osier Dogwoods trying to invade my yard through the fence, I grabbed my phone to take photos. Getting up close I noticed… ladybugs! Lots of them. Do the dogwood leaves provide camouflage from predators? Was this a safe place for them to spend the night? Such intriguing insects, these ladybugs.

Last night, I removed a ladybug from my hand as I typed at my computer. I felt a tickle, looked down and saw her crawling across the back of my hand. I gently moved her to a nearby windowsill. Thirty minutes later, she was back on my hand. Admiring her persistence, I got up and escorted her outside.

In doing so, I thought, This is exactly what I need to do with the people and concerns that are weighing me down. Escort them outside and toss the into the air. Let them go.

Being highly sensitive, I often give away too much of my time, power, and energy to others. I want to please. I want to get along. I put my needs last. The others, they’re simply being who they are. It’s my reaction to them – something they said, or did, or didn’t say or do – that is my issue. Only I can control my reaction, though. I need to remind myself of that, constantly. No more waiting for a response. No expecting them to… do something. No hoping for outcomes I want but can’t engineer. No. Better to be pleasantly surprised than easily disappointed.

So, as with the ladybugs in my house, I must work at setting my expectations and hopes free, tossing them into the ether where they will no longer disrupt my sleep or steal my joy.

But wait! Doing more research about ladybugs, my metaphor breaks down. Or, maybe, expands, teaches me something new.

It turns out we should let the ladybugs who find their way into our homes stay. We should welcome them. They provide a service.

Then fall arrives and the ladybugs need to find warmth, which is most available inside people’s homes – where they often descend in large numbers. Suddenly they’re not as cute to many people as they seemed outdoors. But Jessica Ware, an insect expert and assistant professor of biology at Rutgers University-Newark, said having ladybugs indoors serves a very useful purpose, and humans should welcome their temporary house guests.

“They’re actually great to have around,” Ware said, “because they’re most often predatory and they eat the insects we consider to be pests — especially aphids, soft-bodied insects that feed on vegetation. If you have aphids on any of your houseplants, and you have ladybugs in your house, you’ll no longer have aphids and your plants will be fine. Do not kill them. Do not spray them — because if you do, then you’re destroying some of the natural predators that keep pests in check.”

Because ladybird beetles (which Ware pointed out is the insects’ actual name) gather in big group s— mutually attracted by each other’s pheromones — they’ll often enter just one home in a neighborhood and skip the others. Ware says there is no good way of predicting which house they will want — except that they tend to like their environment moist and warm — much as we humans do.

As for their bright red or orange color with spots:

“Birds that have tried to eat monarch butterflies, for example, don’t forget how foul tasting and vomit-inducing the monarchs are, and learn to avoid them,” Ware said. “Many predators learn to avoid anything with bright so-called “warning” coloration — including the ladybird beetle, which has this kind of coloration and also is foul tasting.”

https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/2014/12/01/welcome-ladybugs-home/19745179/

Okay. From now on, I’ll let any ladybugs who find their way inside my house stay. We’ll coexist. That should be easy, as they’ll be snoozing, hibernating.

And maybe that’s the bigger lesson I needed to learn: in addition to controlling my reactions to others, tossing them into the air so that their actions (or inaction) don’t cause me pain, I can also extend them some grace, the space they need to go on being who they are while I coexist with them. Because, you know, it’s almost always not about them. It’s about me, and my reaction to them. Who knows what’s going on in their lives, what burdens they carry?

The ladybugs have taught me this lesson: My response to others needs to be an acknowledgement that we’re all entitled to space to be who we are, doing what we do, without judgment, expectations, or assumptions.

23 thoughts on “Ladybugs: A Metaphor for Life”

  1. I see plenty of ladybugs here in our garden, too. Nobody has invaded the house though. Not yet. But they are welcome here. In fact, I know of many houseplant owners who purchase ladybugs and set them free inside their homes for the insects killing their houseplants. And I cannot agree with you more on the nursery rhymes and other things little kids innocently pickup and recite. Really crazy. I hope you have rest and recover your energy and put yourself first from time to time!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A neighbor heading south for the winter gave me some petunias growing in pots indoors. Not sure how much longer the flowers will last, but I’m no longer ushering ladybugs outside just in case there are aphids or other bugs on the plants.

      Micah, I will take your hope to heart; thanks. I’m looking forward to some sea turtle news soon…!!

      Like

  2. Once on a hike, I sat down on a grassy bank to find thousands of ladybugs. It was wonderful, kind of miraculous. This past September, while Iris the Yellow Garden Spider was caring for my Black-eyed Susans, there were lots of ladybugs. I was always moving them away from Iris the Spider. I’m also HSP and good god, sometimes it’s overwhelming… I actually wrote a blog post related to that a couple days ago and deleted it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s exhausting at times to be highly sensitive (hunting/killing season is particular hard on me) but over the years I’ve decided it’s actually a superpower, giving us better intuition, insight, and understanding of the world around us and the creatures who inhabit it, including the people who disappoint us.

      Maybe Iris wouldn’t like the taste of ladybugs? Apparently they taste awful, at least to many birds.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She ate the one trapped informing me that all she does is suck out the juice… I was sorry to see that bright red form wrapped up in an Iris web. I had to accept it, though. Together that spider and the ladybugs made a great team. But their world is now frozen and they are hiding somewhere.

        The HSP thing — my big challenge is realizing that what I feel others don’t. Teaching business majors was a HUGE lesson in that direction. But I have a hard time standing up for myself. It’s a skill I haven’t developed very well. I’m working on it.

        The hunting thing — I recently had a woman tell me that for her family it’s an “intensely spiritual process.” All I could think was, “Tell yourself what you want, sweet cheeks.” I just tell the animals I meet at the Refuge to stay there. ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can only imagine your internal struggles, teaching business majors 🙂

        As for hunting being “spiritual” or, as the locals like to say in Vermont, part of their heritage, I say, “The sentient being you’re killing or trapping for fun doesn’t buy into your excuses. It simply wants to live. Stop piling on!”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Personality tests! It was one of our projects and when 90% of them tested the complete OPPOSITE of me on the Meyers/Briggs I got it. They were NOT going to get their feelings hurt, no chance. They WOULD attack because an attack wouldn’t hurt them. Just like that. I was cool with that realization. The five students who tested INFJ, well, 3 of them left the major — one became a teacher, one became a ceramic artist and the other is an actor. A couple more switched from management to accounting.

        Since I like game meat I’m a little sketchy on the hunting thing. One of my acquaintances is a wildlife manager and elk overpopulation is a problem here. It’s a little difficult in this place to distinguish some of the wild ungulates from the domestic. There’s a moment before the cows come down from the mountains that the elk are here and the cow’s winter pastures are filled with thousands of elk. Farmers/ranchers hate the, obviously.

        A serious problem is that over-population leads to wasting disease. I decided that the only thing I can do is like voting Democrat and not hunt or eat game meat. Most of the people I know who hunt live on that for the year. It’s also not easy to get a “ticket” to hunt something. It’s really a thing I can’t wrap my head around to my own satisfaction. I don’t like it, I see the need to cull an over-populated herd, I don’t like it, I see the need to cull the herd, I don’t like it — an infinite loop. Wolves would help a LOT but we know the issue THERE. OTHER animals? Leave them the fvck alone.

        Human arrogant is at the root of a lot of our human problems. 😦 We’re a kind of plague.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Humans are the most invasive species. Especially white European humans, who spread far and wide and whose cultural quirks are responsible for most of the world’s issues today, based of their belief (religiously incubated, usually) that they can “manage” the environment and the wildlife within it to their benefit. Yes, we are a plague. I like to think the planet, as a living being, is using plagues and viruses to control us.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, those old rhymes can be grewsome. When my kids were little they brought home a second verse to ring around the rosie:
    Cows in the meadow,
    Eating buttercups.
    Thunder, lightning,
    We all jump up.

    I like that one a lot. Just yesterday on facebook, I saw a post about american ladybugs versus asian lady beetles. I have no idea if this is accurate. It seems to contradict some of what you found on Wikidedia. https://plunketts.net/blog/ladybugs-vs-asian-lady-beetles.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m amazed nursery rhymes still exist, given their dark images! Why do we keep repeating them, teaching them to each new generation? So strange.

      Interesting article about the differences between ladybugs and Asian lady beetles; thanks. In much of the world and among entomologists, ladybugs are more properly called lady beetles, so it’s hard to know which are which. I’m going to assume (and hope) that the ladybugs in my house and yard and the beneficial kind.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. I don’t know that I’ve seen any boxelder bugs up here, but wouldn’t surprise me to learn the slight differences in climate between southern and northern Vermont account for the different insect populations.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kim. That’s interesting about the ladybugs spoiling wine. But then, their red-with-black-spots coloring is a signal to birds that they taste bad, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Thanks for reminding me that in the future I should visit your blog as part of my research on any type of insect because you’ve likely already done a far more thorough job of it yourself!

      Like

  4. I didn’t realize there was more to that nursery rhyme. I always thought it was interesting that people who fear bugs, don’t mind ladybugs. They are so “cute.” I hope you will enjoy some time devoted to writing with your new roommates. If they’re landing on your hands, perhaps they are encouraging you to get your thoughts down on paper. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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