Most people seem to think that there is only one type of ladybug out there, that has red wings with black spots of there. You might be surprised to know that not only are there many species of ladybug, but that their colors are telltale signs of their toxicity.
The worldwide popularity of the red ladybug is limitless, as it has made it on literally everything, from coffee mugs, to pillows, T-shirts and pretty much any kind of merchandise that you can think of, including ladybug Halloween costumes.
But there are many more ladybug species in the world, and they come in many more colors like bright yellow, eye-popping orange and quite a few earthy shades. These colors are more than just an adorable appearance, as they have quite a significant role in the defense mechanisms of the small insects.
The ladybug’s natural predators are a wide variety of birds, that are hundred of times their size. And so, there is no chance to fight them off physically. Thus, the ladybugs have developed two types of defense mechanisms.
They either took earthy colors and they blend into the environment so that they can escape the dangerous beaks of the big hungry birds. They camouflage themselves quite wittily and they don’t move a lot at once, so that they may stay hidden.
Other ladybugs did exactly the opposite, as they have developed very obvious coloration that is not only a feature that they use to attract mates, but one that proves rather helpful in keeping away their predators. They send off signals regarding the fact that they have toxic chemicals in their possession and so, the birds stay away, at least to some extent.
A group of scientists from the Universities of Cambridge and Exeter decided to look into the toxicity of some of the most famous species of ladybugs. They extracted the toxic chemicals from five different species of ladybug and then they tested out their potency.
They poured the chemical extract into aquariums with small Daphnia crustaceans and then measured the potency of each type of toxin in regards to the number of Daphias that were killed by it.
They concluded that in fact the ladybugs that displayed the most colorful exteriors were those who had the most toxic chemical defenses.
“Our results tell us that the ladybirds present ‘honest’ signals to predators, because their colour reveals how well defended they are” says University of Exeter’s Martin Stevens.
Then, the scientists looked into how the birds saw the ladybugs by photographing the colorful insects with ultraviolet light sensitive cameras. It appears that the birds also follow these color -related signals and actually avoid the brightly colored options, as they associate them with high-risk prey, due to their toxic potential.
It seems that there is more to the adorable ladybugs than meets the eye. Or maybe we just haven been looking from the right perspective all this time.
Image Source: scientificamerican.com