Why Are They Called Ladybugs?

Many historians believe that ladybugs got their name from the Virgin Mary, who sent a swarm of the spotted insect to save farmers’ crops.

Sep 14, 2023byColt Dodd
why are they called ladybugs

The name “ladybug” has nothing to do with gender. The namesake actually dates back to a legend that’s been around for centuries. In Europe, farmers had a problem on their hands; nasty swarms of aphids kept devouring their crops. Desperate for a solution, they prayed to the Virgin Mary.

Not long after, something miraculous happened! Swarms of ladybugs descended on the aphids, wiping them out and saving farmers’ crops. The farmers dubbed these spotted insects “beetle of our Lady.” Eventually, it was shortened into the much easier to say “ladybug.”

Behind the Legend

ladybug red spots on a leaf
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The miracle of the ladybug supposedly happened centuries ago in Europe, and there’s very little documentation that such an event actually happened. However, there’s no getting around it; many cultures all over the world believe that ladybugs are good luck.

Here are some examples:

  • Per the South Carolina Aquarium, legend says that if a ladybug lands on you, count the number of spots it has. The more spots, the more years of good luck you’ll have!
  • The same source notes that ladybugs are a harbinger of love. In addition to giving good luck, if they land on someone, that person is destined to find their true love in the coming days!
  • There are over 500 types of ladybugs––and some are allegedly luckier than others. The redder a ladybug’s coat, the stronger the good fortune.

While ladybugs are signs of good things to come, squishing a ladybug could mean bad luck on the horizon. If one sees a ladybug, they should let it be! They don’t bite, and they prevent hungry aphids from devouring plants.

The Name “Ladybug” Is Misleading

orange ladybug with spots on it
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Although the legend offers a neat origin story for the name “ladybug,” it’s a misleading moniker. That’s because ladybugs aren’t all ladies––and they’re not true bugs either! Wait, what? Well:

  • As the University of Florida points out, ladybugs are both male and female. It’s fairly difficult to tell the difference. But, as a general rule of thumb, female ladybugs are larger than their male counterparts.
  • Although these terms are used interchangeably, there’s a difference between bugs (Hemiptera) and insects (Coleoptera). Bugs have mouths shaped like straws. Think aphids. Insects, on the other hand, have jaws. Think spiders.

Colloquial Names for Ladybugs

ladybug up close under a leaf
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ladybugs live on every continent except Antarctica. As one can imagine, there are different names for these spotted beetles across the globe. Here are some countries and their names for ladybugs:

  • England: Ladybird
  • Italy: Gallinella della Madonna (Madonna hen)
  • Germany: Himmelskuchlichen (heavenly) or marienkäfer (ladybug)
  • France: Bête à la Vierge (beast of the virgin) or vache à Dieu (cow to God)

With all these different names for ladybugs, talking about the insect internationally may get confusing. After all, how is an Englishman supposed to know that Vache à Dieu (again, cow to God) means ladybird?

That’s where binomial nomenclature comes in.

The Latin Name for a Ladybug

a ladybug with green background
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Every organism on Earth is classified into something called “binomial nomenclature.” Here, an organism is named by its genus and species––both of which are in Latin. For instance, the seven-colored ladybug is called “Coccinella septempunctata” in scientific circles. The term “Coccinella” comes from the Greek, meaning “scarlet red color.”

The other term, septempunctata, comes from the Greek “septem” (meaning seven) and punctata (meaning spotted). So, the insect’s scientific name breaks down into “scarlet red color seven-spotted.”

This naming mechanism ensures that scientists don’t get confused by colloquial terms of ladybugs when discussing them. By reverting to the Latin name, everyone knows exactly what’s being discussed, down to the insect’s species.

Are There Any Benefits to Ladybugs?

ladybug about to eat aphids
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even if the centuries-old legend turned out to be nothing more than a story, there’s no getting around it; ladybugs play a vital role in our ecosystem. Here’s how:

  • They manage bug populations. For being 1/8 inches long, aphids can be very destructive. Severe aphid infestations can wipe out entire fields of crop––causing both personal and financial hardship for farmers. Thankfully, ladybugs can eat 500 aphids in a single lifetime (one year!).
  • They’re better than pesticides. In her book “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson discusses the dangers of pesticides––primarily DDT. Overuse can wipe out entire species of plants, animals, and other organisms. Because ladybugs are such voracious eaters, they can replace pesticides and accomplish the same task: getting rid of pests.
  • They’re part of the food chain. Not only do ladybugs eat pesky insects, but they’re a good source of energy themselves. According to National Geographic Kids, they make a tasty meal for some species of spiders, wasps, frogs, and dragonflies.

Where These Insects and Bus Get Their Names

stick bug against a leaf
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bugs and insects generally get their names from either what they look like or what they do. The ladybug is a rare exception in that it has a rich backstory. Other bug names are far less imaginative, such as:

  • Walking sticks. It’s a bug that looks like a walking stick. Nothing too deep here.
  • Dragonflies. Fun fact: dragonflies are not named after the iconic mythical beast. Instead, the name stems from something of a translation error. In Romania, legend has it that the Devil rode on a giant winged insect, and it was called “the Devil’s Horse.” The Romanian word “drac” for devil also means dragon––and the error stuck, hence “dragonfly.”
  • Fireflies. They use chemical reactions inside their abdomens to communicate with other members of their species. They’re also sometimes called “lightning bugs.”
  • Bullet ants. These little buggers get their name from the painful sting they inflict on enemies. Some say it’s so painful, the sting feels like a bullet.

As one can see, there’s a whole world to jump into when thinking about where insects get their names. Ladybugs are just one of many organisms with interesting name-related origin stories.

Colt Dodd
byColt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.