After I was grown I learned that that was an incorrect version of the jingle. Originally it rhymed. It was, “Lady bug, lady bug, fly away home, your house is on fire, your children will roam.” There was a second couplet, too, “except little Nan, who sits in a pan, weaving gold laces as fast as she can.”
It was a warning from English countrymen to lady bugs, or lady beetles as they were also known, not to fly home but to fly from home. The grain had been harvested and the plant debris left by the harvest was going to be burned. But the farmers wanted to spare ladybugs. They didn’t eat crops, they ate aphids and other harmful insects.
As for poor little Nan, she was a young ladybug and young ladybugs can’t fly. Sitting in a pan, I was told, was sitting in a field that was going to be burned. How or why little Nan was weaving gold laces I have never learned.
A ladybug was a ladybug to me when I was a boy and admonished one to fly away home, then gave it a flick with a finger or blew on it to start it on its way. They all looked the same. Now, however, I see orange ladybugs and yellow ladybugs, ladybugs with a few spots, sometimes one with no spots, and some with many spots.
In a reference I read there are two-spotted, seven-spotted, nine-spotted, fifteen-spotted and nineteen-spotted ladybugs. There are ladybugs that are not called ladybugs. The Mexican bean beetle and the squash beetle are ladybugs and the nineteen-spotted ladybug is also called the Halloween bug. According to my reference there are nearly 400 species of ladybugs in the United States.
Not all those ladybugs are native to the U.S. They’ve been imported, accidentally and on purpose, from Europe, Asia and Australia. An example is the vadalia beetle, a ladybug, that was brought from Australia to prey on cottony cushion scale insects that had also been imported from Australia, accidentally, and were devastating citrus crops in California.
Vadalia beetles became an adequate control of cottony cushion scale. But they didn’t eliminate the cushion scale. So when DDT became available it was used, not just to control but to eradicate the cushion scale. The use of DDT backfired when cottony cushion scale developed an immunity to it but vadalia beetles did not.
Ladybugs are welcome in our garden, in our lawn, in the trees around our house. They’re not welcome in our house, especially not on one of my ears or the back of my neck. But this time of year they often turn up in the house. They’re looking for sheltered places to spend the winter and they gather on the walls of buildings that are warmed by the sun. When a door is opened some are often dislodged and fly inside. They also get carried in on caps or coats of people entering.
Not that a ladybug does any damage in a house. It doesn’t. It’s just a nuisance, sometimes a tickle on the ear.