Of Ladybugs and Horse Tales

I sat in the grassy roadside ditch, heavy dew soaking into my jeans and thinking that water-proof pants would have been a better choice that morning.

About then I spotted the little beetle hanging upside-down on the horsetail and thoughts of my soggy bottom disappeared.

An odd-looking ladybug. No sharply defined spots on her beetle body. Instead hers were smudged, as through dew had made the colours run. The bigger blotches reminded me of a pair of brackets or parentheses which — as it turns out — is exactly what the first person to name this beetle thought too.

Parentheses ladybug

That person was Thomas Say (1787-1834), whom I first encountered when I wrote about Say’s Phoebe. From the few accounts I’ve read Thomas was a quiet man who kept to himself, a Quaker who trained as an apothecary but whose real passion was insects.

Known as the father of descriptive American entomology, Thomas identified more than 1000 species of beetles, including the little one sitting beside me in the ditch. In 1824 — 183 years ago — he named it Hippodamia parenthesis.

An odd name. I can understand parenthesis but Hippodamia threw me. A further search took me back to 1758 and Carolus Linnaeus, the man who introduced binomial nomenclature to science. He designed a system whereby every living organism would be assigned two names, a genus (like Hippodamia) and a species (tredecipunctata) — the name he gave to the first beetle he described about 260 years ago: the 13-spotted ladybug.

The species name seemed to fit but still I stumbled over Hippodamia. She was a princess of Greek mythology whose name meant she who masters horses. (Hippopotamus, by the by, means river horse.) How did “horses” possibly relate to ladybugs?

The connection still eludes me. And that’s okay. Not all mysteries need a solution; the unsolved ones leave a gap where curiousity lives.


17 thoughts on “Of Ladybugs and Horse Tales

  1. These are amazing, Sally! Worth getting a soggy bottom over, that’s for sure! The pattern on the ladybird/ladybug looks like a face with raised eyebrows. I love all those sparkling water droplets, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, Pete! Thanks. I figured whatever got wet would dry out but the chance of finding that ladybug again was slim. Now hat you mention it, it is rather face-like. I was out this aft and found an interesting beetle whose markings looked like a sad face. If I can’t ID it it might be one that you know. 🙂


  2. What an absolutely splendid photo. I’m still having a terrible time getting my macro photos to turn out as sharp as I’d like, and it’s always inspiring to see someone’s work who can do it so well. I did find two plain red ladybugs recently, and their color was the sort of red that I’d never wear as lipstick or nail polish. But it certainly shines in nature. Instead of red, you found this fascinating pattern: just as good.

    The hippo connection makes sense to me. When I lived in Liberia, we had pygmy hippos in the rivers, and the shape of ladybugs does seem to be akin to that of the hippopotamus — at least to me.


    1. Thank you, thank you 🙂 I still struggle with macro too. This one was handheld with just the kit lens (16-50 mm) in RAW (which gives me a lot more pixels to play with when I crop, as I did in this photo). I’ve researched a macro lens for my Sony A6000 but the so-so reviews (and the price!) have got me looking in other directions … I’m going to order a set of extension tubes instead to see how they work.

      I’ve also spent far too many hours searching for the “perfect” tripod. (I should know there’s no such thing.) I have a decades old one I sometimes use, with a delayed shutter. That has certainly helped with a few macro shots. I do have trouble when photographing “thin” things, like a stalk of flowers, or a small insect — the camera wants to focus on something else. A trick I used with my now-dead Canon was to hold a couple of fingers in the same plane as the object, focus on them, remove fingers and shoot. Most of the times that works. 🙂


    1. Noe, never seen migration. Is this what leads to media reports of dogs covered with ladybugs, ditto cars, etc? Sounds like some interesting photo ops. 🙂


      1. Never seen them cover a dog or car, Sally, but I have seen them cover logs and bushes up in the lower elevations on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains before my ‘picture taking days.’ They would have been dramatic photos. –Curt


      2. I googled ladybug migrations. Wow! What pictures. I wonder if that is more common in warmer climes? Maybe AB is just too cool. Or maybe we don’t have enough ladybugs to have a gathering of the clan. Hope you get another chance when the camera is close to hand.


      3. Could be that their population ebbs and flows, as well, Sally, with a lot more in some years. I’m rarely without a camera these days, so if I come across a migration, I’m pretty sure int will make it into my blog. 🙂


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