Learn about one of the world’s favorite bugs with our free ladybugs for kids unit study and printable activities.
Every spring our porch is wild with ladybugs! The girls have a great time seeing their friend ‘Gaston’ after his long winter slumber. The ladybug (or ladybird depending on where you’re from) is one of the world’s most beloved and beneficial insects. Found on every continent except Antarctica, these gentle creatures are a great first nature study for children who may be cautious around our 6 legged neighbours. Join us as we learn about the cutest bug around with these ladybugs for kids lessons and activities.
Ladybugs are invertebrates (no backbone!) and classified into the Insecta (insects) class, Coccinellidae family, Hippodamia Genus and convergens species. There are about 6,000 sub-species of ladybugs in the world. Many of these beetles are red with black spots, but others are yellow or orange, and can you believe some don’t even have spots? The most familiar species for those of us who live in North America is the seven-spotted ladybug with its shiny red body and 7 black spots on its back (3 spots on each elytra and 1 spot at the top crossing both).
Activity: Learn how to identify ladybugs
Watch this video by Give it a Grow to learn how to identify the difference between native ladybugs and the invasive Asian Lady Beetle (who have been known to bite unlike their very gentle cousins).
Activity: Go on a ladybug scavenger hunt
Now it’s your turn! Join the list at the end of this post to download your free Ladybug Scavenger Hunt printable and see how many different species you can spot.
Activity: Participate in The Lost Ladybug Project
The Lost Ladybug Project from Cornell University needs our help. According to their research, many native species of ladybugs across North America are declining while species introduced from other parts of the world are increasing their numbers and range. Grab your camera and help them catalogue ladybugs so they can work to solve the mystery! Check out their site for more information on how to participate. You’ll also find full color ladybug identification posters and guides free to download.
Habitat and Diet
Ladybugs live in different habitats all across the world but thrive in temperate climates. They like areas of dense vegetation such as forests, fields, marshes, orchards, and our gardens where they are sure to find lots of their favorite food source – aphids. Most ladybugs are predators and will also eat mealybugs, fruit flies, scale bugs, and mites. Farmers love them for their ferocious appetite. An adult ladybug can eat up to 75 aphids a day, helping to get ride of these crop-damaging insects. Even their larvae will start chomping down on aphids as soon as they hatch.
Ladybugs do not migrate. They hibernate over the winter in dry, warm places. This is why you will often find them snuggled into the cracks of your porch or any small holes in your house! While they hibernate, ladybugs will use energy from their fat stores until they come out again in the warm spring weather to hunt.
Activity: Build a ladybug house
Let’s help our ladybug friends by creating a cozy house for them to sleep in during the winter.
- old basket
- old leaves
- collection of sticks
Fill an old basket with sticks, pinecones, and leaves. Decorate the basket with your child if you want to make it festive! Place it in a sheltered area in your yard.
Ladybug Life Cycle
Like butterflies, ladybugs go through a complete metamorphosis. This means they look different in each stage of their growth. Their life cycle includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa, adult.
Stage 1 – Egg
First, the ladybug lays a cluster of between 5 to 30 eggs on the underside of a leaf. She looks for a plant that has lots of aphids for the young larvae to start eating after they hatch. Ladybugs lay both fertile and unfertile eggs in each cluster. If aphids are limited the larvae will consume the unfertile eggs.
Stage 2 – Larva
Eggs hatch 3-12 days later. The larva look like little alligators with long, black, and spiky bodies. Many species also have orange markings along their back. They certainly look different than their cute adult counterparts! As the larvae continue to eat, they grow until they get so big they break out of their soft skin (a new skin is underneath) and molt. They will often molt 4 times before entering the pupa stage.
Stage 3 – Pupa
When the larva is ready it will attach itself to the leaf and shed one last time into a pupa form. Ladybug pupae are orange with black markings. They will rest as a pupa between 7-15 days. During this time special cells called histoblasts lead a biochemical process that transforms the larva into its adult form.
Stage 4 – Newly Emerged Adult
Ladybugs have soft, pale, pink or yellow shells when they first emerge. Over the next few hours, their shell will begin to harden and turn the deep red color with black spots we all know.
Activity: Watch this time lapse video of a ladybug’s transformation
Activity: Make a ladybug life cycle spinner
Encourage your children to tell the story of a ladybug’s life cycle with this spinner craft.
- Free Ladybug Life Cycle Spinner template
- split pins
- glue, markers
Join the list at the end of this post to download your free Ladybug Life Cycle Spinner and print on cardstock. Cut out each template, life stage circle, and all the black spots. Help your child match and glue the life stage circles onto the labeled base of your spinner. Attach the top and bottom in the center with a split pin. Decorate your ladybug with the black spots and try to answer the ladybug fact questions!
Like all insects, ladybugs have 3 body parts (head, thorax, abdomen), 6 jointed legs, 2 antennae, and a hard exoskeleton made of “chitin” (a very strong protein found in our hair and nails). They are small round or oval beetles, less than 1/4″ long. When we studied our ladybugs, we initially thought the larger black section at the top was her head. This is actually her pronotum which protects and often hides her smaller head from view. Ladybugs have compound eyes that allow them to see in different directions but not very far or well in low light conditions. Their antennae help them feel and ‘see’ by giving them additional information about their surroundings.
Similar to other winged beetles, the ladybug also has a covering that closes to protect the wings called the ‘elytra’. This is that red, black spotted shell that opens up when they fly. Turn your ladybug over and you will notice her legs connecting into her thorax and the different segments of her abdomen. To learn more about the ins and outs of ladybug anatomy visit The Ladybug Planet’s ‘How Many Legs does a Ladybug Have‘ article.
Activity: Learn how to draw a ladybug
Activity: Identify and label a ladybug’s anatomy on your new drawing.
Help your child label the parts of a ladybug on their drawing. What parts of the body do both humans and ladybugs share? (even if they don’t look the same!) How are they different? We thought it was very interesting to note we both have a femur and tibia in our legs! Find this free hand-painted Ladybug Anatomy Poster on our Books and Willows community page when you Join the List for our newsletter at the end of this post. This is a sample from our Ladybug Anatomy and Life Cycle Learning Pack available for purchase in our Etsy store.
How do ladybugs protect themselves?
Even though they are tiny, ladybugs have many ‘mighty’ protection strategies to defend themselves against predators like birds and dragonflies.
Bright colors: Unlike other insects that use camouflage to hide themselves from view, ladybugs use their bright colors to warn of their toxicity. This strategy is called aposematic colouration. Their bright red, yellow and orange colors with contrasting black spots signal that they are mildly poisonous. Anyone wanting a snack will certainly regret the resulting tummy ache!
Yucky liquids: Ladybugs also produce a foul liquid when they are frightened that they release from their knees. This yellow goo is called hemolymph and hast lots of bitter tasting toxins. Yuck!
Play dead: If a ladybug can’t fly away to safety, you may find it playing “dead” – hoping to fool a curious predator. She will stop abruptly, pull her legs in, and sometimes will even flip upside down only to start moving again when she is sure the danger has passed.
Activity: Celebrate a ladybug’s red and black warning system with this bottle cap magnet craft!
- bottle caps
- red acrylic paint or red spray paint
- black sharpie permanent marker
- googly eyes
- black cardstock paper
- small round magnet
- Paint the bottle caps red and let dry. Make sure you protect your work surface first!
- Using your black sharpie, draw a curved line for the head section on one side and fill it in. Color both the top and side edge. Draw a line down the middle to separate the wings and add your ladybug spots!
- Glue your google eyes onto the head and attach the magnet to the underside of the cap.
- Optional: Cut 6 thin strips of black cardstock and glue beneath the edge as legs (3 on each side)
How to invite ladybugs to your garden
As we know, ladybugs are a gardener’s best friend as they help with natural pest control and keep our plants healthy and growing! Although you can order ladybugs to add into your garden, this can come with problems like parasites and diseases. It’s best to try and encourage native ladybugs to make your plot their new home.
Ladybug treats: Plants like Calendula, Marigold, Dill, and Sweet Alyssum have pollen that ladybugs love. Also consider adding plants that attract aphids (their main diet) to your garden planning like Nasturtium and Radish.
Water: Just like all animals, ladybugs need water to survive. Provide them with a shallow bowl of water to give ladybugs and other beneficial insects like bees a much needed drink!
Shelter: Add some low-growing ground cover plants to give ladybugs a safe place to rest. Herbs like oregano and thyme give them a great home.
Activity: Make a ladybug watering station
- shallow container
- marbles, rocks, or shells
- stickers to decorate the container
- Clean your container and decorate the outside with stickers.
- Fill your container with marbles, rocks, or shells.
- Add water and set out in the garden for your ladybugs to enjoy a refreshing drink!
Fun ladybug crafts and activities
Finish your ladybugs for kids unit study with these fun and cute ladybug craft projects!
- 3D Paper Ladybug Craft for Kids from School My Kids
- Ladybug Hat Craft by Kids Craft Room
- Ladybug Egg Carton Craft from Buggy Buddy
- Apple Stamped Ladybug Craft from Simple Everyday Mom
Read about ladybugs
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Our favorite ladybug books resources:
Enjoy your ladybug hunt!