Let’s Pretend You’re a Ladybug

Let’s pretend you’re a ladybug. First, you must be all curled up inside a golden egg, stuck fast to a stem or the underside of a leaf. It’s spring, and you’re in a windless valley. The warm sun is helping you to hatch. You twist and turn and wiggle out of your sticky egg case, but you’re not a ladybug yet.

You’re a ladybug grub, so tiny you’re almost invisible. You look like a worm with warts. And all you want to do is eat, especially some tiny, soft insects called aphids. You like them so much you gobble hundreds each day. Fruit growers and farmers love you, because these pesky aphids destroy their plants. For about three weeks you eat and grow, eat and grow. Then you form a case around yourself.

But you’re still not a ladybug. You’re a ladybug pupa, getting ready for the day you really become a ladybug. And it takes a lot of getting ready. Mysterious changes are taking place inside your case. For one week you hang head down, changing … changing. You are changing from bumpy to smooth, from long to short, from thin to round, and from soft to hard.

Then the big day comes. Your case splits open and out you pop! You were a dull grayish reddish orange with black spots. Your hard and round shiny shell is only about 1/8 inch long. You have a head with two feelers, a thorax with six legs, an abdomen, and now you’ve sprouted wings!

Your feeding habits have not changed much. You eat more aphids—hundreds of them day after day until one day you realize they are all gone. Your feelers can’t feel or smell any more aphids; now what will you do? You simply use your new wings to fly to a spot where you can find more aphids. So you beat the air and rise up out of the valley air and over the mountain.

High up a strong wind blows. It tosses you back and forth, from side to side. You try to stay on course and not be swept out over the ocean where you may become lost at sea. You are little and the wind is strong, but somehow you know what to do. You swoop down and fly closer to the ground where the wind is not so strong, down where the world is green. You fly closer and closer. What a sight—a rose garden! And on each leaf are aphids. What a delight—delicious, juicy, plump aphids for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You munch one aphid after another, like the robin nearby that is gobbling up worms.

All of a sudden you feel yourself being picked off the rosebush—ever so gently—and you hear a little voice say, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home.” Then you feel a breath blowing you softly away. Your abdomen is full of aphids so you fly and rest, fly and rest. The warm summer days pass quickly.

Then one day a cool breeze blows, making leaves swirl about you in red, orange, and yellow patterns. In the forest squirrels chatter and bury nuts. It’s time to find a dry spot to spend the winter. You snuggle under a warm blanket of leaves while snow falls softly all around. But you’re not alone, for thousands of other ladybugs rest there, too, all winter long.

When spring comes, something inside makes you restless. The other ladybugs are stirring and restless too. Soon, whether you are a mama ladybug ready to lay golden eggs, or a papa ladybug, one thing is certain. After the long winter you are hungry. But you know where to find food back in the valley. So, on the first windless day, you raise your wings, flutter a bit, beat the air, rise up again, and return to the valley.

Now it’s your turn to lay golden masses of eggs on a stem or the underside of a leaf. And after a few sunny days, when something inside an egg starts to twist and turn and wiggle, the making of another ladybug will start the miraculous process all over again.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney