by Chrisy Solo
This week’s crawly is a painted beauty. Meet the painted lady beetle (Mulsantina picta).
It’s easy to see how the painted lady beetles got their name. While they vary a lot in color, from bright reds, yellows, greens and oranges to more subdued shades of brown and tan, none of them have spots.
Their nontraditional markings – or lack thereof – are just one of the painted lady beetle’s unique qualities.
Painted lady beetles can be found throughout North America, but only in boreal forests (forests growing in high-latitude environments where freezing temperatures occur for six to eight months and in which trees can reach a minimum height of 16 ½ feet and a canopy cover of 10%). The other common name for painted lady beetles is “pine lady beetles” because they prefer pine trees.
Vocabulary word of the week: Aphidophagous, meaning “feeds on aphids.”
While most aphidophagous lady beetles are quite nomadic, always searching for a new aphid-packed plant source for a hearty meal, a 2008 study by John J.Sloggett, Ilja Zeilstra and John J.Obrycki showed that painted lady beetles are very attached to pines and will stay in one location much longer.
Nonpainted lady beetles flew off the pines for greener pastures, but the painted lady beetles stayed on the same patch of trees for up to 10 days.
Despite their small size, just over one-eighth of an inch, these bitty beauties will chow down on a lot of aphids. Like most lady beetles, their larvae also provide free aphid pest control. It’s also likely that they eat scale insects as well. Quite a bonus.
There are four North American species sharing the painted lady beetles’ Genus Mulsantina. Like the painted lady beetles the rest of the species in the genus sport unique markings as well, except for one species that has “typical” spots.
All four species are arboreal (live in trees) as well. Because the species sharing this genus are small and live up in the canopy, there’s still lots to learn about them even though the genus was first described in 1850. So many nifty beetles, so little time.
If you’d like to see a painted lady beetle in person, look sharp. There are lots of documented sightings of them in our area and you don’t need to shimmy up a conifer to see one. They can be found in and around trees in areas where pines grow.
The pictured painted was hanging out on a large grass leaf drying off after one of our recent rains.
Due to thier small size, you’ll have to lean in to see that watercolor-like pattern. They’re on the wing from now through at least August. Even if you don’t spot one right away, it’s always a good use of time to get a better look at any lady beetle.