What do Ladybug Colors Mean?

posted: 06/05/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Ladybug on a leaf macro

Although the classic ladybug (also known as the ladybird) is a deep, fire engine red with deep black spots, the tiny creatures actually come in a variety of different colors: red, black, orange, yellow and even pink.

A new study from the Universities of Exeter and Cambridge has finally elucidated the meaning behind the wide range of ladybug hues: the bright coloration communicates the degree of its toxicity to predators.

"Our results tell us that the ladybirds present 'honest' signals to predators, because their color reveals how well defended they are. Relatively inconspicuous species, such as the larch ladybird, have low levels of defense and place more emphasis on avoiding being seen, whereas, more conspicuous and colorful species, such as the 2-spot ladybird, openly flaunt their strong defenses to predators like birds," remarked University of Exeter's Dr. Martin Stevens.

Researchers from the two institutions presented model ladybugs to predatory birds, which were more likely to attack the inconspicuously colored faux-insects. They also investigated dead ladybug predators, specifically the small crustacean Daphnia, whose stomachs were full of different species of ladybug. More of the dead Daphnia had consumed brightly colored ladybugs than those sporting neutral hues.

The team's research is published in the latest edition of the journal Scientific Reports.

Click here to learn more from the University of Exeter

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