Welcome to SP!  -
Exploring The Mystery Of Summit Ladybugs
Article
 

Exploring The Mystery Of Summit Ladybugs

  Featured on the Front Page
Exploring The Mystery Of Summit Ladybugs

Page Type: Article

Object Title: Exploring The Mystery Of Summit Ladybugs

Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering

 

Page By: Redwic

Created/Edited: Jun 21, 2011 / Jun 24, 2013

Object ID: 723486

Hits: 15948 

Page Score: 97.96%  - 75 Votes 

Vote: Log in to vote

 

Wait… Did Someone Mention Summit Ladybugs?

Have you ever been on a mountain and seen hundreds, possibly thousands, of ladybugs crowding on a rock or log? Have you ever seen photos showing the occurrence? Have you ever noticed the occurrence does not happen all year? Have you ever wondered what causes the phenomenon? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then this article might be suited for you.
Lady Bugs
At Summit Of Bass Peak (Montana). Photo Credit: "thephotohiker"

Who Cares About Ladybugs?

Technically, and contrary to popular belief (at least in North America) ladybugs are not true bugs at all. They are beetles. Many scientists prefer referencing the names ladybird beetle or lady beetle as identifying names, rather than the more widespread and less accurate ladybug moniker. However, for the purposes of this article, the more common and recognizable (at least in North America) ladybug name will be referenced.

The name of the beetle is rumored to have been derived in Europe during the Middle Ages. European folklore states there was once a plague of insects devouring agricultural crops. After Catholic farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for assistance with getting rid of the menacing insects, legend claims that beetles came from the sky and began eating all of the crop-damaging insects. The farmers, believing their prayers were answered by the Virgin Mary herself, nicknamed the saviors “Beetles of Our Lady,” which later got shortened down to ladybugs.

But do not be fooled by the name. Ladybugs are certainly not damsels, let along damsels in distress. The beetles have been around for many millennia, with the earliest identifiable fossils of ladybug ancestors dating back to the Cretaceous Period (between 144 to 65 million years ago). Ladybugs are found throughout the world, on every continent but Antarctica. In fact, there are over 5000 species of ladybugs, approximately 450 of which are native to North America.

Of those many ladybug species in North America, only one of those species is a regular peakbagger:
Hippodamia convergens, the convergent ladybug.
Ladybugs
Convergent Ladybugs (Hippodamia convergens). Photo Credit: "HokieJim"

Time To Eat!

Ladybug, ladybug fly away home,

Your house is on fire and your children are gone,

All except one,

And her name is Ann,

And she hid under the baking pan.

-Old English Nursery Rhyme


For only a several months during every year, typically during Spring months, the convergent ladybug becomes a voracious eater of aphids. Although the convergent ladybug can survive for long periods on other substances such as pollens, nectars, flower petals, and soft plants, aphids are an integral food source for the life cycle of the convergent ladybug. Without aphids as their primary food source, female convergent ladybugs reabsorb their eggs within their bodies rather than laying them. With aphids as their primary food source, female convergent ladybugs can each lay 200-1000 eggs during one Spring season. Adult convergent ladybugs prefer feeding in areas of large aphid populations, to increase egg laying potential. In such areas of large aphid populations, it is not unusual for an adult convergent ladybug to consume an average of 22 aphids per day.

Ladybug larvae hatch within 3-6 days after eggs are laid. Like adults, larval and pupal convergent ladybugs require consumption of aphids to ensure survival. This is yet another reason that adult convergent ladybugs seek areas of large aphid populations; it ensures the survival of the species. Not all adults reproduce during aphid-feeding periods; some will wait until the following Spring to do so. As the aphid-feeding season ends, the species begins migrating towards potential hibernation locations.

The convergent ladybug is the most common species of ladybug in North America, and as such has many places to choose for hibernation locations. As the aphid-feeding season ends towards late Spring, many convergent ladybugs remain in those areas and find hiding places such as under leaf litter or under logs for which to begin hibernation. Many others will migrate away from the feeding areas to find similar low elevation locations for which to begin hibernation.

Still some others, especially in the western half of the North American continent, will migrate far away from the feeding areas to mountainous areas…
Gudalupe Peak Trip 2007
At Summit Of Guadalupe Peak (Texas). Photo Credit: "mbjakusz"

Head For The Hills!

During late Spring and early Summer, many convergent ladybugs begin migrating towards mountainous areas. The trek is not a graceful, straightforward type, as wind currents and air temperatures greatly influence migratory patterns. Winds help propel the flights of convergent ladybugs, pushing them higher and closer towards higher elevations. However, once the ladybugs reach air temperatures of approximately 55°F they need to stop flying, triggering a temporary free-fall until their bodies can warm up enough to continue the migration. This causes a sort of repetitive oscillation effect, the side-view of which would look like a sine wave.
Lady Bugs
At Summit Of Woody Mountain (Arizona). Photo Credit: "Alex Wood"

Mountain-bound convergent ladybugs are not typically in swarms during these in-flight migrations. Occasionally, they will land on ground to consume pollens and nectars as a means to fatten up their bodies for survival during hibernation. However, once they find their desired high elevation summits they tend to swarm en masse and form colonies. Most of these mountain summit goals range between 6000’-8000’ elevation, but some might be as high as 10000’ elevation (or possibly higher) depending on current conditions.
Ladybugs on the Rudolph Mountain Summit
Above 10000' On Rudolph Mountain (Colorado). Photo Credit: "sarah.simon"

It is during these periods of summit swarms that mountaineers most frequently notice the ladybugs. Where there is one ladybug there is usually hundreds if not thousands congregrating nearby. Many ladybug dealers/collectors claim that some of these mountain colonies can contain as many as 500 gallons of ladybugs, with each gallon containing up to 72,000-80,000 ladybugs. The beetles remain on their high elevation homes throughout the Summer months. This timeframe represents the beginning of diapause, which is the nine-month period of hibernation process for convergent ladybugs. Many within the species will begin mating during this first stage of diapause, and larger colonies have greater chances for successful mating.
Gobblers Knob
At Summit Of Gobblers Knob (Utah). Photo Credit: "Garfimi"

It is unknown exactly why many convergent ladybugs seek out high elevations, but many people speculate it is because high mountain summits are located far away from most primary predators such as other insects, birds, and spiders. It is also unknown why certain summits are preferable ladybug gathering sites over other nearby summits, but many people speculate it might have to do with the coloration of the summit terrain, surface temperature of that terrain, and/or hiding places (such as cracks) within that terrain.
A plague of ladybugs
At Summit Of Crane Mountain (Oregon). Photo Credit: "CalebEOC"

Time Flies (And So Does A Ladybug)

Those interested in seeing this unique high elevation phenomenom should do so while the opportunity presents itself. During late Summer and early Autumn, as the weather becomes rainier and temperatures cool, many of the convergent ladybugs leave the high mountain summits in favor of lower elevations. In many instances, they migrate to sub-alpine areas within 2000’-5000’ elevation, only to hide under leaf litter, in or under logs, or other secluded locations for which to spend the remainder of their diapause in a dormant to semi-dormant state.
Lady Bugs
In Sequoia National Forest (California). Photo Credit: "tarol"

These locations later become covered for many months by Winter snowpack, insulating them from the harsh sub-freezing winds and temperatures that would otherwise kill them. Some days might occasionally be warmer than normal, and during those periods some mating will occur as the beetles temporarily become active again. Later, after temperatures become warmer during late Winter and early Spring, the ladybugs begin to emerge and migrate back to their Spring aphid-feeding and reproducing areas, restarting the cycle.

North America is not the only continent which experiences summit ladybugs. Several relatives of the convergent ladybug create similar phenomena on other continents.
Ladybugs On North Gardner
At Summit Of North Gardner Mountain (Washington). Photo Credit: "Redwic"


So the next time you find colonies of ladybugs converging on on a summit, just remember it is a natural occurrence that should be treasured and enjoyed while it lasts.

Bibliography

Grossett, Sara Elizabeth. "Migratory Patterns and Diapause of Hippodamia convergens (Convergent Ladybug)." Apr. 2011. 17 Jun. 2011

Lyon, William F. "Lady Beetle: HYG-2002-98." Ohio State University Extension, Horticulture and Crop Science. Accessed 21 Jun. 2011

Signer, Ian. "The Biogeography of the Convergent Ladybird Beetle (Hippodamia convergens)." San Francisco State University, Department of Geography. Fall 1999. 17 Jun. 2011

Wineke, Andrew. "Ladybugs are Heading for Colorado Hills." Colorado Springs Gazette. 26 Aug. 2009. 20 Jun. 2011
------------


Primary Image:
Convergent ladybugs atop Centennial Cone (Colorado), photo courtesy of "sarah.simon"

Are There Other "Exploring The Mystery Of" Articles?

If you enjoyed reading this article, and/or found it interesting, perhaps you might also like to read the other articles in my "Exploring The Mystery Of" series:

Exploring The Mystery Of Watermelon Snow

Exploring the Mystery Of Glacier Ice Worms

Images


Comments


[ Post a Comment ]
Viewing: 21-39 of 39 « PREV 1 2 NEXT »

BaarbMoths

Baarb

Hasn't voted

Often saw thousands of moths 4000 m up a particular volcano in Mexico. Given that they were usually dead I suspected that they didn't intend to be but maybe there was some reason for it after all.
Posted Jun 27, 2011 11:30 am

Moogie737Beetles bag a 13er!

Moogie737

Voted 10/10

Very good article. I was on the summit of Nevada's tallest, Boundary Peak, on the first day of summer last week (June 21, 2011) and we experienced exactly what the article described. I had seen them before on Wasatch 11ers, but never higher until last week. I took a picture but I don't think that I can attach it here. Let me know if you would like it.
Posted Jun 27, 2011 2:24 pm

RedwicRe: Beetles bag a 13er!

Redwic

Hasn't voted

If you PM me the link, I will attach it. I definitely want to see it, as that would be the highest elevation yet (of such encounters I have heard of, at least).
Posted Jun 27, 2011 7:45 pm

MarekBThanks!

MarekB

Voted 10/10

A very thoroughly researched and scientifically accurate article! And a good read, too.
Posted Jun 29, 2011 1:49 pm

Ejnar FjerdingstadVery interesting

Ejnar Fjerdingstad

Voted 10/10

indeed, though I don't remember seeing ladybugs on Alpine summits. They are very common in Denmark, though, where they are known as 'mariehøns' (literally 'Mary's chickens').
Posted Jun 30, 2011 8:52 am

Mike LewisDo you

Mike Lewis

Voted 10/10

teach college level english? Impressive article.
Posted Jul 1, 2011 1:54 am

RedwicRe: Do you

Redwic

Hasn't voted

Only to your brother! j/k
Thank you for the comment.
Posted Jul 1, 2011 6:43 am

Mark DoironVery Interesting

Mark Doiron

Voted 10/10

I heard about and saw this for myself on the top of Tooth of Time in NM. Not only were there ladybugs, but lots of gnats as well. I also saw the ladybug congregation while hiking the Mist Falls Trail in SEKI.

--mark d.
Posted Jul 1, 2011 7:41 am

wyopeakMikenot so ladylike

wyopeakMike

Voted 10/10

I have seen them on many summits here in Western Wyoming and Eastern Idaho and I have found out that they can sometimes be not so nice. I was sitting on Baldy Mountain in Eastern Idaho amongst swarms of them and they kept landing on me and biting me. I have been bitten before, mean little ladies they are.
Posted Jul 3, 2011 12:18 am

americanswissThanks

americanswiss

Hasn't voted

I have wondered about this for years. They can be annoying at the top of a summit sometimes. Thanks for addressing this. Mystery solved.
Posted Jul 5, 2011 11:40 pm

kilimanjaro1Me too

kilimanjaro1

Hasn't voted

I saw a giant swarm on Mt Herman summit, Colorado a few years ago. I took a few pictures...thought it was really neat. Now where the heck are those pictures?
Posted Jul 6, 2011 12:49 pm

Sean KenneyCOOL!

Sean Kenney

Hasn't voted

I found a group on Wonoga Peak here in California.
Posted Jul 8, 2011 6:20 pm

Steven CrossLadybugs on Greenhorn Mountain

Steven Cross

Voted 10/10

I just saw this phenomenon at about 11,300 feet on Greenhorn Mountain here in Colorado on July 4th. My 3 year old son really enjoyed seeing so many ladybugs. The number of ladybugs was probably in the hundreds or lower thousands, not as many as I have seen in the past. The last time I saw this was on Sitgreaves Mountian near Flagstaff AZ about 10 years ago.
Posted Jul 10, 2011 3:11 pm

donhaller3"hilltopping"

donhaller3

Voted 10/10

Very interesting. Sharon, our three boys and I walked up Lookout Mountain, Wallowa Mountains in 1984(?). The highest point was a cluster of large boulders, the highest of which was covered by a similar swarm of lady bugs. End of my knowledge. (Lookout Mountain does not have a lookout and is above Hobo Lake on the divide between the Lostine and Minam drainages. Class 2 from the ridge that ends immediately south of Hobo Lake.)

Ahem. With butterflies, this is called hilltopping and is connected with congregating for mating. Even you butterfly haters have likely seen it. The congregating butterflies, not mating. Mating, of course, would be an unforgivable distraction from summiting.

Ahem 1.1. Hilltopping lady bugs are one tiny part of the fascination of the mountains. Not for those who cannot see the mountains for the summits.

Don
Posted Jul 25, 2011 2:12 pm

selinunte01Nice read

selinunte01

Voted 10/10

thanks for that! I once saw hundreds of those bugs on the slopes of Aetna volcano in Sicily at about 2600 m / 8500 ft altitude and I was wondering what they did there.
Cheers, Michael
Posted Jul 25, 2011 5:38 pm

AriehDavidever been bitten?

AriehDavid

Hasn't voted

I was on the summit of Black Marble Mountain in California and I don't know if it was just sticky legs or what, but I could have sworn they were biting me.
Posted Jul 26, 2011 11:12 am

RedwicRe: ever been bitten?

Redwic

Hasn't voted

That is entirely possible. Others have suggested that, too.
I assume you were not wearing a red shirt with black polka dots, or else biting by the ladybugs might have been the least of your concerns. lol j/k
Posted Jul 26, 2011 1:05 pm

butitsadryheatNear my home,

butitsadryheat

Hasn't voted

If you go up Cedar Creek Drainage or Poso Creek Drainage (in the 5-7000ft range)in the early summer, the logs across the river are literally covered, looking a burnt orange. Neat sight.

Here is a link to a site that encourages people to send in their photos of ladybugs so they can track where different species still are, since the ladybug population is suffering lately.

http://www.lostladybug.org/index.php
Posted Jul 27, 2011 1:22 pm

chris9876Thanks!

Hasn't voted

Well, I'm just back from a mountaineering trip and I went on several glaciers the passed week. I permanently wondered about the crowds of ladybugs! Thanks for your enlightening report!
Posted Aug 14, 2011 9:24 am

Viewing: 21-39 of 39 « PREV 1 2 NEXT »