A Ladybugs Boots Were Made for Walking

ladybug

A ladybug’s movements are way more complex then they might seem. (Photo credit: Radius Images/Alamy)

As insects go, the ladybug (or ladybird) is one of the more beloved. They’re not poisonous, they eat insects gardeners consider to be pests, and their red bodies with black dots are pleasingly colorful. Even if they infest your home, they pose more of an annoyance than a threat. However seemingly benign, we can also see the ladybug as a kind of insect action hero.While many insects can walk up and down walls, as well as upside down on ceilings, the ladybug can do all these even while underwater. And, unlike spiders, ladybugs don’t need to spin webs to do any of it. In recent years, scientists have been looking closely at what gives the ladybug these extraordinary abilities in hopes of finding ways not to improve upon nature, but instead to catch up with it. The desire is to apply their findings to help develop new materials and technologies useful to humans.

Ladybugs belong to the Coccinellidae family of beetles, of which there are over 400 varieties. They range in size from 0.8 to 18 mm and can be yellow, orange, or scarlet in color with small black spots. In general, they’re considered useful insects as their main diet consists of aphids, one of the more destructive insects to crops in temperate regions. In a lifetime, a ladybug eats up to 5,000 times its own weight in insects, which is why farmers generally appreciate having them around. The ladybug/aphid rivalry is one of natures more notorious relationships — so notorious, in fact, that NASA brought the two insects to outer space to study their movements. While their bright coloring and foul taste make them undesirable to other insects, birds do snack on ladybugs and are their only major predator. Ladybugs thrive in almost any ecosystem, from grasslands to urban landscapes, and are active from spring until fall. In wintertime, they search for warm secluded places, such as inside hollow logs, under large rocks, or even the foundations of buildings, in which to hibernate. A hibernating colony contains thousands of insects.

Scientists have long seen potential in the microstructures of insects as offering clues for how to build machines and other applications to improve life. Ladybugs appear to offer a particularly good subject for study because of how effortless they seem to move in so many situations. In 2012, researchers at Japans National Institute for Material Sciences were intrigued by the way ladybugs could walk under water, clinging to surfaces as if glued to them. By closely studying the movement of the ladybugs setae (that is, their feet), the scientists noticed that air bubbles formed between them. The air bubbles apparently helped to keep the setae dry in the water, as well as whatever adhesive was on the setae. When they attempted to construct an artificial, silicone-based material that would produce the same type of air bubble, the researchers found they could affix objects to walls underwater, even without any adhesive being present. The conclusion isn’t as much earth-shattering as instructive: capillary action, the same phenomenon that causes a paper towel to absorb water, was also at work in the ladybugs climb. The realization could lead not only to better adhesives for use underwater, but also to adhesive technologies that are more environmentally friendly, and do not rely on potentially dangerous chemicals.

Recently, Dr. Jan Michels, a scientist at the Institute of Zoology at the University of Kiel in Germany, has taken out the big guns, you might say, in order to get an even better understanding of whats happening at the ladybugs feet. Using confocal laser scanning microscopy and atomic force microscopy, he and his colleagues have gained an unprecedented view of the material that makes up the ladybugs setae.

“Each leg is equipped with fine adhesive hair, which enable the insect to cling to surfaces in a most impressive way,” Michels said in a statement about the research. “Our results show that different parts of the single hair feature varying material compositions and properties. While the bases are relatively hard and stiff, the material in the tips of every single hair is rather soft and flexible.” The natural assumption is that the softness enables the tips to adjust to the varying up and downs of uneven surfaces, while the hard and stiff bases offer support.

The scientists also realized that the soft and flexible tips contained a high proportion of the protein resilin, the same protein found in other highly-resilient insect structures, such as leg joints and wings. However, unlike how the previous observations led to a synthetic model that could be tested, the microstructure of the setae is so complex that currently there is no known material that could make modeling it possible.

“Nature is a ladybird’s step ahead of us,” Michels said. Now it’s time for material scientists to find how to make it work practically.

The idea that nature has secrets to offer — ideas that one day could lead to technologies that currently lie only in the realm of science fiction — should not be surprising. Nature has had billions of years to work on them. What is interesting in the above research is how many facets there are to the solution. It might be easy to think an insects ability to scale walls and walk underwater was only the result of a special glue, or some magic substance. However, the above studies make clear that a complete understanding must consider both physical and chemical phenomena and how they interact. It also underscores the point that oftentimes what seems the simplest and least complicated of actions, like the tiny ladybug walking across a flower, is far more complex and intriguing than could possibly be imagined.

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Comments

  1. Caleb Holdener says:

    Wow I never know ladybugs had that, I always thought they clung the same way spiders and geckos do. Who would have thought. The fact that they can walk underwater is truly amazing in itself. I also learned that ladybugs eat up to 5,000 times its own weight in insects, I was not even sure they ate insects.

    • Tyler Flynn says:

      Its truely astonishing isn’t it? I would have never, ever guessed any of this. Its amazing how such a simple creature can walk underwater when most insects can’t, as well as eat so much in a lifetime of an insect.

      • Talley Kitzman says:

        It really is astonishing. I didn’t know most of this information and now I know that even a bug as simple as the ladybug can do such amazing things.

  2. Alex Killeen says:

    I think this article was very intriguing. I also found it was very intresting that humans dont know of anything that can make a model like that of the ladybugs legs. Its amazing that an insect so tiny has things so avanced in their body that humans cant even make a copy of it.

  3. Caroline Jackle says:

    It is so amazing that such a seemingly simple insect has so many abilities.

  4. Keleigh Hogan says:

    Reading this reminds me of this winter when ladybugs hibernated in my house and were everywhere. It made it worse when the article said there were thousands of them in my house i just couldnt see them.

  5. Landon Johnson says:

    This is interesting because this could mean that we are on the brink of discovery. Learning from nature is always intriguing because sometimes we forget it is ahead of us in so many ways.

    • Lauren Dooley says:

      I totally agree with Landon. It is crazy to think how things in our environment are more ahead than we are. If we discover more and more there is no telling what we could discover!

    • Isaac Deas says:

      It is true that nature is far ahead of human kind. However, it takes nature millions of years to create such techniques, and we can study nature and replicate its marvels in only a few years. That fact is amazing as well.

  6. Isaac Deas says:

    Wow, I never thought that such a small creature could master physics in a manner that betters the clearly dominant species on Earth. Nature is amazing in many ways, and we need to learn from it. However, a technology like this could be used in such a way that could harm other human beings. This is just on of any ethical concerns found in biology.

  7. Tyler Ittel says:

    Wow, who knew such a seemingly simple insect like a ladybug was so fascinating! Imagine if we we able to walk underwater, up walls, or on ceilings. Think about it, what if one day our construction workers could freely scale buildings and work without safety harnesses., no more fatalities from falling. Nature still has so much to teach us!

    • Sebastian Martin says:

      I never thought about it that way. It would be amazing if scientist could find a way for humans to be able walk like ladybugs. It would definitely make construction easier and a lot safer.

    • Lydia Newton says:

      I love how you connected the technologies that scientist could design based on the ladybug to construction workers. I didn’t really think about what we would use the new technologies and inventions for when I first read the article, but your comment makes me think more deeply about the subject and I find the article a bit more important than before.

  8. Aijalon Powell says:

    I think this article is very interesting. It’s cool to think that air bubbles can help adhesion underwater. I’d love to see this help the environment. Science fiction comes true!!!! Ladybugs are more complex than they seem.

    • Lauren Frank says:

      I completely agree Aijalon. Helping the environment could be an amazing outcome of this discovery. Also, ladybugs are truly more intricate than they appear to the eye.

  9. Hannah Bentley says:

    This article was taught a lot about how ladybugs walk underwater and also up walls by their fine adhesive hair on their legs and also the way the air bugs form between them and the surface they are walking on.

    • Atlas Mitchell says:

      Personally I thought they ate aphids and were cool and useful but you’re right they can do more.

    • Emma Hoffman says:

      I agree, Hannah. It think it’s really interesting that they are able to walk underwater and I wonder if any other insects are able to do that.

  10. Lydia Newton says:

    Ladybugs were one of my favorite insects as a kid.

    I think it’s interesting how scientist want to study insects and how they move to design inventions that might help humans.

  11. Atlas Mitchell says:

    I wonder if the water’s own adhesion has anything to do with the ladybugs ability to walk underwater. For example, could the water be sticking to the outside hairs and the inner hairs stick to the underwater surface. Could this little bug begin a revolution of technologies based on insect phenomena.

    • Will Graham says:

      With the help of the ladybug intriguing a few creative minds, humanity may take a huge step into the future of technology. Who would have ever wondered a brilliant idea would spark by a couple of scientists getting curious about an insect? With this kind of creativity, scientists may be able to invent something fantastic by observing another animal… or bug.

    • Mikayla Lee says:

      That’s an excellent point. I can’t imagine what type of advancements this information could possibly lead to.

  12. Allie Davis says:

    After reading this, I found myself astonished about all the things I actually did not know about Ladybugs. I was very suprised that one little insect could walk up and down walls, aswell as walking upside down on ceilings even underwater!

  13. Keaton Dotson says:

    In my opinion, I thought the article was very interesting. I liked the cool facts about ladybugs eating 5,000 times its weight in insects.

    • Tanner Carter says:

      I agree with Keaton. its very interesting to see such a small creature eat that much. The ladybugs mitochondrion must have a lot of work to do 🙂

    • Josh Couch says:

      I agree with Keaton. That is pretty cool. I couldn’t imagine eating that much and still being able to function.

  14. Mikayla Lee says:

    Alot of people underestimate ladybugs, but we don’t really realize how much they can contribute to the improvement of our technology. They might be cute and harmless, but ladybugs could provide us with the knowledge to one day walk on walls or something.

    • Aijalon Powell says:

      This is so true. A lot of things just slip under our notice because they happen to be smaller than us. We can actually learn a lot from nature if we just open our eyes.

    • Landon Johnson says:

      This is true Mikayla. We often underestimate many other living things just because it is not a human. There is so much still to learn from the world around us.

  15. Josh Couch says:

    It’s cool how ladybugs and other insects can walk on the walls and ceilings without falling. The hair they have on their feet is very useful.

  16. Katie Laird says:

    It was suprising to find out that ladybugs can eat up to 5,000 times their own weight per year !

  17. Destiny Castillo says:

    I love how this article made a connection between the our advancing technology, and zoology. It gives me a better understanding for how animals are used to better human lives.

  18. Emma Hoffman says:

    This was a very intriguing article because I had no idea ladybugs could walk underwater and I never thought that an insect walking underwater and scaling walls was so complicated.

  19. Melanie Palomo says:

    The Ladybug although small and harmless they are very beneficial to our planet. Its amazing to know that such a small insect has so many abilities. The ability to walk underwater and land is something very unique and wonderful.

    • Lily Scott says:

      I totally agree, Melanie. So cool to see and understand how the LadyBug’s ability to walk underwater and land, is beneficial to our planet. I would have never thought it was plausible.

  20. Lily Scott says:

    This article is so intriguing. I had no clue that the Ladybug was so important and beneficial to our world. The fact that a Ladybug can climb using setae with air bubbles on the bottom of the setae,the air bubbles help keep it dry in water is so astonishing. I never knew that. 🙂

    • I completely agree, it’s so interesting how we all don’t put much thought into these things, but once you look its really interesting.

  21. Abbey Cox says:

    I thought this article was intertesting because I had never really questioned how lady bugs climb walls, but the article made me think about it. The way the ladybugs acheive these things is remarkable, and its easy to see that human have a long way to go before catching up with these tiny bugs.

  22. Lauren Dooley says:

    In my opinion this article was very interesting. I think that it is cool how lady bugs have special feet to walk in many different places.

  23. I have always wondered how an insect climbs smooth surfaces like those of a ladybird, but I never found a good answer to help me. It’ s quite interesting to see how they use tiny little air bubbles to aid them in walking on underwater surfaces with ease.

  24. Mark Ludwig says:

    I found the article very interesting. I was surprised that scientist could learn so much about adhesives from the ladybug’s feet. The fact that scientist have found a new, natural adhesive that they can use underwater is interesting. I was also intrigued that such a little bug had some much natural technology built into it.

    • Madeline G. says:

      I agree with Mark! I had no idea such a simple and small bug had so much natural technology built into it.

  25. Braxton Hunter says:

    This article is very intriguing. I never knew ladybugs were this complicated. It is truly amazing how something of its minuscule size consumes 5,000 time its own body weight in its life time. I used to always think that ladybugs were just another useless bug that we have here on earth, but now I know that they are essential for things like keeping the aphid and other insect populations down. This proves that even the smallest things in life are a big deal.

  26. I never knew that something as small and simple as a lady bug could give clues and help people to better understand and make improvements on technology. It is interesting to me that the lady bug has so many complex features that scientists are still discovering and trying to make models for.

  27. I never thought that the study of a ladybug could possibly enhance our way of life. It really shows that even the smallest things in life matter.

    • Destiny Castillo says:

      I wonder what other little things there are out in the world that could help us advance in technology.

  28. Sebastian Martin says:

    I find it really interesting that humans are still learning from nature. When we learn more about nature, humans can find a way to interact with nature in a better way. These new discoveries will diminish our ecological footprint in our natural habits and help preserve them for future generations.

    • Katherine Klein says:

      I agree with Sebastian. It’s amazing what we can learn from nature. There is so much left to discover about the world we live in.

  29. Madeline G. says:

    I find it very interesting that nature is far more complex than us humans think. This article informed me about the way ladybugs move around with their feet and the diffrent surfaces they can move around in. By having air bubbles on their feet, it is almost like glue, they can walk basically under any circumstance. This even includes underwater, i never knew ladybugs could even go underwater and furthermore, move around! This article taught me that humans sometimes dont realize the benefits that come from such small creatures.

    • Mikayla Lee says:

      That was also something I never knew, that they could go underwater. It makes me wonder if there are other insects that can survive underwater, which would change my entire perspective on underwater life completely.

    • Ellie DeMoss says:

      I agree Mady! Who knew ladybugs could be so interesting.

  30. Rachel Crosslin says:

    The way scientists are discovering new ideas and ways to conquer scientific problems by simply studying a ladybug is so fascinating. Like the article suggested, I think our society could become much more advanced technologically than it is currently if scientists took the time to study other insects in depth. The possibilities are practically endless. Who knows? If they keep focusing on learning from other organisms to create technologies, amazing items you wish existed as a child (such as a flying school bus) could easily become a reality.

    • Yes they surely are fascinating! I totally agree that our society could become more technologically advanced. I am so excited to see what the world holds for us in the coming years!

  31. Julia Boe says:

    I found this article very interesting! I think its interesting that scientist are studying lady bugs and how can they walk on walls or or upside down or even in water without a web like spiders. Only two years ago they started studying ladybugs, i would have thought that they would have already known about the air bubbles that were in between their feet. I think that ladybugs are very fascinating insects and that scientist should do more research on them!

    • Rachel Crosslin says:

      I agree with Julia. This article was very interesting as well and scientists could use these ladybug findings, apply them to technology, and study more insects in detail. Scientists should study ladybugs into more depth than they are currently.

  32. In my opinion, this article is very educational, but it is also interesting. Until a few months prior to reading this article, I did not know that ladybugs could walk upside down and on weird or different surfaces. But now after reading this, I learned that not only can they walk upside down, but they can also walk and stick to things underwater.

    I feel that if scientist find ways to manipulate or copy the material ladybugs use to walk so inerestingly, the human race can make many new technological advances for the benefit of the world. These technological advances may not be made for years to come, but I still believe that they will be made eventually.

  33. Katherine Klein says:

    From this article, I found that there is still so much that we have left to learn about the world we live in. Things that we can learn from not only each other, but insects as well. Just two years ago scientists became intriged with the fact that ladybugs could walk underwater. Ladybugs have tiny adhesive hairs on their legs that allow them to cling to the walls even while underwater. It just makes me think… what else is there that we have yet to discover?

  34. There were many facts in this article that I had no idea ladybugs were able to do. For instance, that ladybugs can walk underwater. I learned a lot and thought that this article was very interesting.

  35. Lauren Frank says:

    I found this article extremely interesting. I never knew that ladybugs could cling to walls underwater. The tiny hairs on their legs allow them to “stick” so that they can do this. This could truly lead to more scientific discoveries and prevent the use of chemicals that could harm other organisms. It’s amazing how new things are discovered everyday even with all the technology we possess.

  36. Tyler Flynn says:

    And I thought that ladybugs were such useless creatures….and I come to find out just what all this tiny insect can do. Amazes me. Wow. Absolutely astonishing.

  37. Alex Brown says:

    I think this article was very interesting. I didn’t know that ladybugs were so complex. I thought they were just simple little creatures that didn’t live for very long. When I see ladybugs now I am going to think about this article.

    • Breann Gray says:

      I agree with Alex. When you look at any insect you dont think much of them. But now that I know what they can be used for it makes them seem a lot more

      important. Also you cant even imagine what you can learn from the other species.

    • Ashlyn Stewart says:

      I agree with Alex. I was shocked at how useful these tiny creatures actually are. It makes me wonder what else scientists will discover about other animals and insects.

  38. Rachel Crosslin says:

    I agree with Julia. This is interesting because if scientists keep on studying ladybugs and applying what they learn to technology, they can keep making more discoveries and advancements in society.

  39. mohammed abraham says:

    this article was very informative to me because i would have never guessed that such minute creature can consume over 5,000 times its weight. also its astonishing how we (the people) have been studying and researching about nature and the enviroment that surrounds us but yet the most simplest minor things we cannot yet discover why or how they can do such things for example is the lady bugs extrordinary feet and how it is able to resist and climb through all these sufaces.

  40. mohammed abraham says:

    I most certainly agree with talley this article was very significant and educational about such a minute creature yet we still have many other creature to discover and research about their abilities instead of just focusing on how the lady bug crawls underwater maybe if we could research and discover other creature we could combine alll the features of each and make a mechanism so beneficial to the world that it could be the most magnificient piece of technology humans have ever made.

  41. Kenny Buck says:

    Is it wrong that I’m more interested in the colony size than the actual content? Still interesting though.

  42. Breann Gray says:

    I like that these scientists and other researchers are trying to find environmentally friendly adhesives. It is also interesting where they are looking for these solutiongs. There are amazing things that you can find out about things that are around you everyday.

    • KeShaun Sutton says:

      I would so have to agree with you Breann. The world needs more green solutions and materials. I also have to agree that I like that they are thinking outside the box for the answer!!

    • Ashyln Parker says:

      I too think its interesting that they looked for solutions in a tiny little ladybug! Who would have ever thought to look for them there?

  43. Keaton Dotson says:

    I agree with Alex, its pretty incredible how such a tiny insect can actually do!

  44. Tanner Carter says:

    I believe there is so much to this world we don’t know yet. We might never reach our full potential of what humans can do with all of our resources. Nature is way more than just a step ahead of us. They might be a couple thousand steps ahead of us. If we are just now figuring out how a ladybug can do these things, imagine how much we don’t know about the rest of the animals on this Earth.

  45. Camille Baker says:

    I think this article was really interesting, and at the same time, was informative on ladybugs. I would have never thought that a ladybug eats up to 5,000 times its own weight in inescts in a lifetime. It’s also neat that they can thrive in almost any ecosystem.

  46. Tanner Carter says:

    Its crazy to think of how much we don’t know in this world. If we are just learning about how ladybugs work then imagine all the rest of the animals that we don’t know about yet. We are not one step behind nature, but maybe a couple thousand steps.

  47. Ashlyn Parker says:

    Wow, who knew such a small simple little insect could do such extrordinary things!

  48. KeShaun Sutton says:

    Wow, I think it is so amazing that a little lady bug can walk up and down wall underwater. Its so fascinating what you can learn or create from one of the smallest bugs in the world. I can’t wait for the day that i can walk up a wall underwater!

  49. Ashyln Parker says:

    Wow, who knew that a tiny little insect could eat up too 5,000 times its own body weight?!

  50. Evie Breedlove says:

    Wow, this article is very interesting. I never knew that an insect as small as a lady bug could do so much. It’s really amazing that a lady bug can eat up to 5,000 times its body weight. So many amazing abilities for such a small insect.

  51. Maddi Shultz says:

    I think its pretty cool that scientists can now further our technology just by studying the abilities and traits of a ladybug.

  52. Parker Craighead says:

    I think it fascinating that ladybugs actually serve a purpose besides flying around and looking cool. I have new found respect for these tiny creatures. It’s mind boggling that there is so much that can be learned from something so small. LADYBUGS ARE TOO COLD!!

  53. Ashlyn Stewart says:

    This article was very interesting. It amazes me that an insect as simple as the ladybug can do such amazing things. I was completely unaware of some of the interesting facts about a ladybug, such as a ladybug consumes 5,000 times its own body weight in a lifetime.

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