There are as many as 5,000 species of ladybird in the world. They belong to the family scientifically called the Coccinellidae, from the Latin word Coccineus, meaning scarlet.
The name ladybird is thought to have originated in the United Kingdom, formed from Our Lady’s bird or Lady beetle. Our Lady is the reference given to the Virgin Mary, who, in early paintings, was shown to be wearing a red/scarlet cloak.
There is a popular legend from the Middle Ages that says when a plague of insects was destroying crops, all the farmers prayed to Our Lady – the Virgin Mary – and were rewarded by the appearance of thousands of ladybirds that ravaged the plague and thus saved the year’s harvest. This gave rise to the name “Our Lady’s Beetle” – Ladybeetle.
There are many alternative names for ladybirds. In America they are commonly called Ladybugs (they are not in fact bugs and are actually beetles). They also come in a variety of colours, not just red as many may assume. There have been as many as 47 varieties recorded as being native to the UK, though only around 25 of these are actually recognisable as ladybirds. Below is a list of other countries and the name that the ladybird is known as:
- Scandinavia – Nyckelpiga (Our Lady’s Key-Maid)
- Russia – Bozhia Korovka (God’s Little Cow)
- France – Bete a bon Dieu (Animal of the Good God)
- Germany – Marienkafer (Mary’s Beetle)
- Greece – Paschalitsa (after paschalia, the Common Lilac plant)
- Spain – Vaquilla de Dios (Cow of God)
- Denmark – Mariehøne (Mary’s Hen)
- Ireland – Bóín Dé (God’s Little Cow)
It is believed that the reference to cow is due to the ladybirds spots.
Other names they have gone by in various regions of the UK are:
- Bishy Bishy Barnabee
Unfortunately, colourful as they are, these names are seldom used today.