What Do Ladybugs Eat And Drink In Your Garden

What ladybug eat and drink in your garden

8 Things Ladybugs Eat And Drink

When you hear ladybug, you probably picture a small, red beetle with black spots, but ladybugs actually come in all sorts of colors. Whether you call them ladybugs, lady beetles, or ladybird beetles, there are more than 6,000 species in the family of Coccinellidae[2].

With so many species, it’s no surprise that they eat and drink all sorts of different things to help them survive in your garden.

Ladybugs differ in colors and sizes and differ in what they eat

Most of these little critters are considered beneficial for gardens, eating undesirable insects that damage your plants, but there are a handful of species that will eat fruit and vegetable plants. In this article, we’ll cover the most common species you’re likely to find in your garden and tell you what they’re eating and drinking while they’re there.


What Ladybugs Eat

1. Insects

The primary food source for most of these beetles is aphids. Some species prefer to eat a specific species of aphid while others will eat any aphid they find. A single ladybug can consume 5,000 aphids in their lifetime which will reduce the damage aphids do to your plants!

When aphids are in short supply, these critters will feed on other insects in your garden too. They will feed on just about any tiny, soft-bodied insect. The table below shows some of the other insect species they will eat.

  • Ants
  • Aphids
  • Beetle Eggs
  • Butterfly Eggs
  • Caterpillars
  • Leafhoppers
  • Mealybugs
  • Moth Eggs
  • Oak Leaf Phylloxera
  • Scale Insects
  • Spider Mites
  • Thrips
  • Whiteflies

A quick table format:
Ladybugs Food Table

If food sources are scarce, ladybugs can even resort to cannibalism and will eat other ladybug eggs!

2. Pollen

Pollen is another food source for these beetles. As much as 50% of what the common Kentucky lady beetle eats may be pollen[1]! Ladybugs can even pollinate certain flowers while feeding on the pollen.

Ladybug eating pollen

3. Mildews

The twenty-spotted lady beetle has been found eating powdery mildew spores. They will also feed on the conidia powdery mildew produces[5]. This is another great reason to have these insects around since powdery mildew can harm all kinds of plants and trees.


What Ladybugs Drink

4. Water

Yes, they will simply drink water when they are thirsty. If you have a water feature, like a bird bath or fountain in your garden, they will stop by and take a drink.

Ladybug drinking water from raindrops on a cloverleaf

5. Flower Nectar

Ladybugs will drink flower nectar which provides both food and water. They typically prefer shallow flowers which have nectar they can easily access with their mouthparts including coriander, alyssum, and dill[3].

Extrafloral nectaries (EFN) are a little-known gland that produces nectar, just like flowers, and are present on over 2,000 plants[3]. These beetles will drink the nectar produced from extrafloral nectaries too[2]!

6. Honeydew Excretions

With aphids comes honeydew, so it’s no surprise that ladybugs will also enjoy a drink while eating aphids. They will drink the honeydew that aphids produce which may reduce the growth of black sooty mold on plants[2].


What The Bad Ladybugs Eat

While most species are good, there are three common species in North America that will feed on vegetables and fruits.

7. Vegetable Leaves

The squash beetle (Epilachna Borealis) can cause big problems in your vegetable garden and will eat most plants in the Cucurbitaceae family which includes squash, cucumbers, melons, and pumpkins[1]. They primarily feed on the leaves of these plants which causes dieback and reduces the plant’s ability to produce their fruits. They are golden yellow in color, have 7 spots on each wing, and are about twice the size of other common ladybugs.

The Mexican bean beetle (Epilachna varivestis) is another bad beetle found in your garden. As the name suggests, beans are their preferred food including snap beans, lima beans, cowpeas, black-eyed peas, soybean, clover, alfalfa, velvet bean, mung, and adzuki[1].

Just like the squash beetle, Mexican bean beetles primarily feed on the leaves of the plant which leads to plant dieback and decreased fruit production. They look similar to the squash beetle but are more orange in color and have 8 spots on each wing.

Garden pest Mexican Bean Beetle eating a cucumber plant leaf

8. Fruits

The multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) is also considered a pest, but not in the same way as the previously mentioned pests. They will feed on fall-ripening fruits, when their primary food sources become limited, including grapes, strawberries, and apples. However, the bigger problem they pose is to your home.

These critters need to find a place to overwinter and they prefer structures like your home. They will congregate together in your home using a special, species-specific pheromone that calls in all of the other nearby buddies.

They won’t eat anything in your home like some other insect pests, but they can excrete a smelly, yellow substance from their joints which can stain clothing and light-colored surfaces.


What Ladybugs Don’t Eat

Most of these beetles are generalist feeders and can eat just about anything that is soft, small, and slow enough to catch. However, they do have preferences and are very unlikely to eat certain things unless their life depends on it.


While ladybirds can technically eat any insect that is small and soft-bodied, the limiting factor is speed. They have not been documented eating the insects in the table below, not because they can’t but because those insects are able to quickly fly or jump away.

  • Bees
  • Dragonflies
  • Fruit Flies
  • Fungus Gnats
  • Gnats
  • Grasshoppers
  • Mosquitoes
  • Spiders
  • Springtails
  • Stink Bugs
  • Ticks
  • Wasps

A quick table format:Insects that ladybugs don’t eat

However, they may be feeding on eggs from some of these species but that would be hard to detect since it likely happens infrequently.


Other than the plants mentioned above, lady beetles are unlikely to feed on other plants with the exception of eating pollen and drinking nectar. You won’t find ladybugs eating your grass, flowers, or leaves (except for the Mexican bean beetle and squash beetle).


What Do Ladybugs Eat During Winter?

Most actually don’t eat during the winter in North America! Instead, they go into dormancy during winter and find a place to hibernate. They do this because their main food sources, insects and plants, become scarce during winter.

Instead of eating, they just find a nice warm resting place, slow down their metabolism, and take a long nap until the plants and insects they eat show back up in spring.


How To Keep The Good Ladybugs In Your Garden

There are a number of reasons to keep the good lady beetles in your garden. They will eat unwanted insect pests and provide several other beneficial services to your garden.

Raising Your Own Pet Ladybugs

Some people will try raising their own ladybugs as pets, which they can then release in their garden, but this can be difficult. You would need to be able to provide them with a consistent food source which could prove difficult at certain times of the year.

Most of these beetles prefer to eat other insects and will only eat things like pollen and mildew when insects aren’t readily available. If you try to feed your ladybug leaves but never provide it with insects to eat, it likely won’t be very happy or live for as long as it normally would.

Purchasing Ladybugs To Release In Your Garden

An easier method to get these beneficial insects into your garden is to purchase them and release them. However, if you don’t have something for them to eat and drink, they may just fly away in search of what they need.

Making Your Garden Attractive For Good Ladybugs

If you’re going to release these critters into your garden, make sure you provide them with as much food and drink as you can.

To provide food you can have an abundance of flowers in your garden which will likely attract some of the insects ladybugs eat and they can feed on the pollen[1]. To provide them with something to drink, you can add a water feature or grow plants with EPNs or shallow flowers like coriander or dill[3].

Ladybug feeding on dill

You should also provide them with a house they can use for hibernating in the winter. You can easily find many ladybug houses to purchase online or build your own. Just make sure it will shelter them from the elements during winter and that the entry holes are small enough to keep any larger insects or mammals out.

Finally, make sure you don’t spray insecticides in your garden that will harm your ladybugs[1].

If you make your garden attractive to lady beetles, you may not even need to purchase and release them. They will likely find the oasis you’ve created for them on their own and decide to stay.



[1] Bessin, R. (2019, November). Ladybugs. University of Kentucky Entomology. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from http://entomology.ca.uky.edu/files/ef105.pdf

[2] Communications, I. F. A. S. (n.d.). Ladybugs in Florida. UF/IFAS Extension. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/ladybugs-in-florida/

[3] Mizell, R. F. (August, 2001). MANY PLANTS HAVE EXTRAFLORAL NECTARIES HELPFUL TO BENEFICIALS. UF/IFAS Extension. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/in175

[4] Shelton, A. (n.d.). Lady Beetles (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae). Biological Control A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://biocontrol.entomology.cornell.edu/predators/ladybeetles.php

[5] University of California. (2018, September 21). Pests in gardens and landscapes: Quick tips Lady Beetles. UC IPM Online. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from http://ipm.ucanr.edu/QT/ladybeetlescard.html

About Dakota Crawford 45 Articles
Dakota Crawford is a freelance science writer who covers gardening, forestry, wildlife, and entomology. She earned three degrees from The University of Georgia: Bachelor of Science in Wildlife, Master of Science in Forest Resources, and Master of Science in Entomology.