Among insects, there are few that can be considered cute or likable. Creepy, gross, or scary are more common descriptions. We’re more likely to swat at bugs or call an exterminator than we are to admire them!
But there’s one insect that many people find instantly lovable: the ladybug. Ladybugs decorate clothes, lunchboxes, and toys, reminding us of the warmth of summer and charming us with their small size and colorful spotted shell. What’s not to like?
Ladybugs are so cute that it’s easy to forget that they are actually beetles of the family coccinellidae. So how did this diminutive beetle come to be called a ladybug, and why are they so beloved? Let’s find out!
The Catholic Origins of the Ladybug
The Catholic imagination of centuries past saw creation as a book or revelation of God’s goodness and nature. Everything in creation spoke of God or angels or saints in some way–and that includes bugs! In Catholic England, the coccinellidae beetle was first called the Ladybird, or Our Lady’s bird.
A famous English children’s rhyme, which you’re supposed to recite after a ladybug lands on your finger, immortalizes the name ladybird:
Ladybird, Ladybird, fly away home!
Your house is on fire, Your children do roam.
Except little Ann, who sits in a pan
Weaving gold laces as fast as she can.
The ladybird was so called because the ladybug had seven spots, which reminded English Catholics of our Lady’s seven joys and seven sorrows.
The bright red shell also reminded Catholics of the red mantle Mary often wore in paintings. In America, the ladybird beetle came to be known as a ladybug.
People of other nations also saw Marian symbols in the Ladybug, including the German people who named it the marienkafer, or “Mary’s beetle.” The people of Sweden called the ladybug the nyckelpiga, or “Our Lady’s little hen.”
A Blessing to Farmers
Farmers love Ladybugs for another reason, however: they eliminate pests!
Farming is hard work, but even a carefully planted and well tended crop can be destroyed by an invasive pest. Beginning centuries ago, farmers noticed that ladybugs would feast on harmful insects that threatened their crops, protecting the harvest year by year.
Of course, these devoutly Catholic farmers knew nothing was random, and they saw in the Ladybugs’ presence Our Lady’s care, and the answer to their fervent prayers.
The Ladybug, ladybird, marienkafer, or whatever you choose to call it, spoke to European and early American Catholics of Our Lady’s protection and God’s presence in all of nature.
We too should learn to see God and Our Lady’s presence in all of nature. Nothing is random in God’s universe!