Ladybugs Ain’t So Ladylike: A Guide To Their Toxic Color Scheme

Ladybugs are toxic to water fleas and other small animals. And the secret to figuring out how toxic is all in the color scheme.

Jun 07, 2015 at 8:28 AM ET

Ladybugs seem harmless enough, unless you’re a hungry toad or a careless water flea. For those small predators, ladybugs are packed with poisons designed to take them down and make them pay for coming too close. Until recently, however, scientists weren’t sure which ladybug colors made for the most toxic cocktail. But in a new study published in Scientific Reports, researchers quantify ladybug toxicity based on their brilliant colors.

The findings suggest that—as with many insects—brighter colors tend to be more toxic. Unfortunately, it seems some predators just can’t take a hint—super toxic orange ladybugs are still eaten more often than the less toxic red ladybugs. Here’s your handy guide to ladybug toxicity, based on how many water fleas their poison can kill within three hours: