How To Tell the Difference Between Ladybugs And Asian Lady Beetles (2024)

How to Tell the Difference Between Good Ladybugs and Bad Ladybugs

Ladybugs, also known as lady beetles or ladybirds, are members of the Coccinellidae family of insects. And, like in many families, there are both good and bad members. The good lady beetles help maintain order in the garden by eating pesty insects that would make a short meal out of plants otherwise. The bad lady beetles also do that, but then they crash in your attic, make a huge mess if you try to remove them, and invite all their friends along.

So, how can you tell the difference? Fortunately, many ladybugs are very distinct and don’t look anything like the multicolored Asian lady beetle (the black sheep of the family). Unfortunately, multicolored Asian lady beetles don’t always look that much like one another, which can make identification tricky.

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What’s the Problem With Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles?

Generally speaking, multicolored Asian lady beetles aren’t that big of a deal most of the time. They spend their summers feeding on aphids, scale, psyllids and other bugs in the garden, just like the rest of the family. They’re an invasive species, which isn’t great for native ladybugs, but that’s hardly the whole story.

Where multicolored Asian lady beetles run into problems is when they happen to live near people. By nature, they seek out protected places to overwinter, such as caves in their native habitat. Unfortunately, in the United States, they seem to have largely ditched the idea of living in a cave and, instead, move into already-occupied houses with abandon.

So, in the fall, people who had no idea they were surrounded by multicolored Asian lady beetles are suddenly accosted, with thousands upon thousands of individuals appearing all at once to make a winter home in attics, wall voids and other warm, protected spaces. Even this might not be the end of the world, except that multicolored Asian lady beetles are horrible house guests.

They don’t destroy anything, understand, but the minute you start to try to get them up off the couch and out of your attic, they will emit drops of their foul-smelling, bitter, orange blood. It will stain pretty much everything and a few people are terribly allergic to these creatures, further complicating the situation.

Differentiating Ladybugs From Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles

Multicolored Asian lady beetles are tricksters, indeed. They sport yellow to red coloration, with black dots, which is pretty much what you’d expect a ladybug to look like. Except that many ladybugs don’t, and that’s a good first step. Many species of ladybugs look nothing like the stereotypical model, and instead might be black with red dots, or even gray with black dots.

If the ladybug in question is yellow to red, though, it’s a lot harder to sort out. One distinct feature of a multicolored Asian lady beetle is that it has a prominent marking in the section between its wings and its head. This is often said to look like the letter “M,” but, frankly, doesn’t always.

When looking for this marking, instead, look for a black arch over a white flattened circle that sits against the wings. The flattened circle might have some black protruding into it from the eye-side of the insect, but this is still the same creature. The black arch will run up to the eyes of the animal, but sometimes also has a white marking down the middle (which is what makes some look like the letter “M”). On either side of the black mark, there will be a large white circle.

Asian Lady Beetle

How To Tell the Difference Between Ladybugs And Asian Lady Beetles (2)

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Ladybug

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Keep in mind that multicolored Asian lady beetles can have widely varying coloration, sometimes with more black or more white on the section above their wings. They have about 19 spots, but sometimes are barely visible, so make the insect look as if it were spotless.

If you’re lucky enough to have two ladybugs and you’re trying to figure out which is which, the multicolored Asian lady beetle will be the larger of the two, at about one fourth of an inch long and one fifth of an inch wide. Other ladybugs are much smaller, depending on the species (there are about 5,000).

The most telling characteristic of a multicolored Asian lady beetle is its proclivity to cluster indoors during the fall and winter. If you find a bunch of ladybugs in your house napping, those are definitely the bad kind, there’s no question at all.

ASIAN LADY BEETLE CHARACTERISTICSLADYBUG CHARACTERISTICS

Black arch over a white flattened circle that sits against the wings

No ‘M’ marking that Asian lady beetles have

Red and yellow

Can range in color (from red to black to grey)

Typically larger than ladybugs

Smaller than Asian lady beetles

Found indoors in clusters

Mostly found outside or inside individually


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Living With Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles

Even though multicolored Asian lady beetles can be serious nuisances, they are also beneficial while they’re outdoors. They vacuum up aphids like it’s their job (wait, it is), and generally do all the good stuff other ladybugs do. For this reason, many people have learned to live with them, rather than destroy them on contact.

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You’ll have to take a great deal of precaution to keep these creatures from invading your home in the fall, but spring is a great time to get started. Seal up any holes over one eighth of an inch, including under the siding or trim work of your home. If you’ve had an infestation before, you probably have some idea where they’re camping out and how they’re getting in. Focus on keeping them outside and you’ll have much better success next winter.

How To Tell the Difference Between Ladybugs And Asian Lady Beetles (2024)
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