Last winter, as I was perusing Amazon for Christmas gifts for the kids, I saw Insect Lore's Ladybug Land for only $5.89 + free shipping! No, I didn't get it for the kids - it was for me. It sat on a shelf all winter and early spring, just making me even more impatient for warm weather than I already was. I've never seen ladybug larvae. I had no idea WHAT their lifecycle was like. Boy, was I excited touse that certificate to order my ladybug larvae. Just like a little kid who sent away for a toy from the back of a cereal box,  anxiously checked my mailbox daily for my ladybugs!

Now, I tend to think of myself as an amature naturalist. Since I was very young, I could identify all kinds of plants, animals, and insects with little or no prior knowledge. Maybe my mind sees these things in passing and files them away for later... I don't know. Last year, I somehow knew immediately that the little, orange finch-like bird that stopped behind our house on this migration south was an oriole. To my knowledge, I've never seen one - in real life, a book, or a TV show. I just knew.

So, when my ladybug larvae arrived, I was extremely surprised at what was in the little tube! I had seen these things while I was outside before, but I had no idea what they were. When I came across one, I just moved to a different place and pretended I didn't see it. They are scary-looking!

Ewwww!!! Don't let them touch me!
These things are amazing - I already learned something new and they were out of the mailing tube for less than a second! Now, there are a few things that I have found that Insect Lore doesn't mention about the insects they send you. The first is what is in the food that is provided. I looked it up on Google and cannot find it. If anyone knows, please tell me - I'm very interested! (And the butterfly food, too!)

The red-orange ones are pupae, the yellow-ish ones are larvae. Not much difference!

The other thing is: you don't hear about how messy insects can be. See the little dots in the picture above? They were all over the dome - I didn't think I'd be able to even get a good photo without the camera trying to focus on those instead of the bugs. It's not really something you think about, is it? Maybe they omit this information because there are plenty of people who would outright refuse to have the things in their house if they knew. It's not like the things crawl all over the house leaving little droppings and their shed skins everywhere - it's all contained and can be cleaned with just a little water in a few seconds. But I think that there should be some kind of explanation in the instructions. Just sayin'...

Anyway, they successfully made it into the pupal stage - where they sat for days. I ended up forgetting about them. Then, one day, Little Guy was jumping up and down and pointing at the Ladybug Land. I looked inside and there were 10 ladybugs running all over the place. They were busy! Insect Lore says to soak a raisin in water for five minutes, cut it in half, and put it in there for them. I had raisins all ready, so Little Guy and I went into the kitchen to "cook them breakfast." Yeah... the raisins were gone - the entire giant bag. Argh.

I found myself in the garden, crawling around and looking for aphids among my radishes, tomatoes, and peas while Little Guy... um...helped. Now, last year, I had to pull all of my parsnips because the aphids were just going nuts and I couldn't control them with organic methods. This year? No aphids at all. We had to venture into the woods, where the swarms of mosquitoes live, to find these things something to eat. After a good 15 minutes of slapping and searching, we hit the jackpot. Ick! I pulled the whole plant out of the ground and, carrying it by the roots to keep the creepy-crawlies from touching my hands, I put Little Guy under my arm and ran as fast as I could back into the house. I tossed the plant in and washed my hands like Lady Macbeth.

When I returned to the Ladybug Land, Little Guy was staring intently inside. There was an aphid assassination going on in there! I must say, it was pretty cool.

After the feast - that leaf was COVERED with aphids! Anyone have any mini toothpicks?

The next morning, the other five ladybugs emerged and we got to watch. Did you know that they don't have spots on them right away? It was kind of neat to watch them appear. After they were all out and had their spots, it was time to set them free. I was NOT going to go back into those woods! The instructions said that, if I wanted them to stay in the yard, to let them go in the morning. Here are the photos:

NONE of them flew away! It's been two days and I am pretty sure they're all still out there. I'm hoping to find some of their bright yellow eggs on the back of some leaves. I know that I won't be afraid of the larvae now! Oh, and while we were out there, I found an old friend!

Right in the middle of my oregano, the only surviving praying mantis! He is the "king" of the 25 I found in the cupboard last month - he ate everyone else! He's made it through 100 degree weather, 40 degree nights, 60 MPH wind gusts, and, recently, quarter-sized hail!

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