Ladybugs Actually Love-Bugs?

Who would’ve thought ladybugs are actually love-bugs?

In what one could refer to as a ladybug Bacchanalia, thousands of ladybugs converge every year for a mating ritual of epic proportions. If you stumbled upon one of these ladybug celebratory sites, you might mistake the spots on the trees for rust. If you stop to think, “Trees don’t rust,” and take a closer look, you’d realize the spots are writhing masses of ladybugs, mating to their heart’s content.

Ladybugs spend most of their year feasting on aphids, much to the delight of gardeners worldwide. But when the cold sets in and the aphid population shrinks to nothing, ladybugs take to the skies en masse. Once they hit the right height, air currents take over, and the benevolent winds of fate carry them to the nearest mountains, where they find their way to historic ladybug mating sites of yore. By late fall, the trees are alive with the sounds of ladybugs getting it on.

What’s most stunning is these particular ladybugs have never been to these hotspots before: this event happens once a year, and ladybugs’ lifespan tops out around one year. Scientists aren’t quite sure how these remarkable bugs all find their way to the same spot, but they hypothesize that past ladybugs leave pheromone trails, chemicals secreted through their feet, leading their offspring on a metaphorical trail of breadcrumbs to the right sites. Once together, the ladybugs are all over each other, literally and figuratively. Ladybugs are typically solitary creatures, so this meeting of thousands is ecstasy. There’s not much to worry about— their rusty color warns off predators, practically screaming, “We do not taste good.”

Once all their urges are satisfied and winter sets in, the ladybugs all snuggle up together in tree trunks, hollows, and even underground to hibernate. Together, they stay toasty warm until winter breaks and spring is sprung. When they wake up, there’s still a bit more to get done: this is their last chance to mate, since they only live a year. With everything taken care of, the ladybugs head back home, never to return.

Next fall, a new generation of ladybugs will follow in their footsteps, heading back to the same spots where hundreds of generations of ladybugs before them have come to participate in this fantastic ritual. Nature is pretty magical, and even something as small and commonplace as a ladybug can show it.