Bug Blog

The Colors of the Ladybug Send Strong Messages

The Colors of the Ladybug Send Strong Messages


Predators know when to chow down on an easy food source, and when to be wary.  The most common predator for ladybugs are birds, and they are well-educated on what to look for in a satisfying, and safe, meal.  The brighter the ladybug, the more dangerous it is to a hungry bug-seeker.

Ladybugs are one insect that is almost universally loved.  They aid gardeners by protecting plants, are gentle, and are beautiful to look at.

Lina María Arenas, a PhD student at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter and from the University of Cambridge, conducted research to compare coloration and toxicity in the bugs, while observing how birds and plant predators know what bugs are safe to eat.

“Our study shows that not only does ladybird colour reveal how toxic they are to predators, but also that birds understand the signals that the ladybirds are giving. Birds are less likely to attack more conspicuous ladybirds,” said Arenas.

Ladybugs range in color from brown to bright red, with an array of oranges in between.  The bugs found to be dullest in color tended to be shyer, hiding from predators.  Bright orange and red species who carried the most toxins lived and moved in plain view.

Researchers used modified cameras to observe how the bugs would appear to birds, who have a vastly different spectrum of color vision.  The study also used fake ladybugs of different colors to test the birds.

The full study, “Signal honesty and predation risk among a closely related group of aposematic species” can be found in the latest issue of Scientific Reports.