Do Ladybugs Play Dead?

Ladybugs belong to the family of beetles, and they are famous for playing dead, their small size, and their role in controlling the pest infestation in the garden. They use different techniques to protect themselves because they are prone to predation by large-sized insects and birds.

Do Ladybugs Play Dead? Ladybugs play dead as a defense tactic to escape predators, respond to stressful and threatening circumstances, divert the attention of predators to other moving prey, and camouflage in the surroundings by stopping their movements. They lay on their back, become immobile, release toxic and stingy odor fluids, and pretend to be dead until they feel safe and predators move away from their surroundings.

There are more than 5000 ladybug species worldwide, and 24 are well-known in the United States. They are commonly observed in gardens, meadows, forests, grasslands, and along rivers. They can form groups or colonies and also hibernate in large numbers to provide warmth and security to each other.

Why do ladybugs play dead?

Ladybugs have short legs and antennas and use different mechanisms to defend themselves in threatening situations around their habitats.

Defense tactic

These small-sized beetles are adapted to many defense tactics to deter predators and escape potential threats. Playing dead is one of the most successful defensive mechanisms that helps them defend themselves because many predators do not eat the dead prey.

For example, spiders, frogs, and toads prefer to eat live ladybugs instead of dead insects and stay immobile to reduce the chances of predation.

One of my friends told me that he saw a ladybug playing dead in his yard when he noticed a spider in the surroundings. He said that this beetle remained motionless for a long time until the spider moved away from this place.

I was astounded to hear this because I had never seen them pretending death, as I had often observed them in my garden feeding on different plants.

Escape threats

They play dead to escape the threat or fool the predators and get the time to understand the situation. Meanwhile, they take action according to the conditions in the surroundings.

They immediately lay on the ground and pretend that they are dead and escape the potential threats using this technique.

The predator loses interest in eating the dead prey, and it serves as a temporary shield to deter the alarming and intimidating circumstances and think about how to react to protect themselves.

Releasing toxic fluids

Ladybugs are also famous for releasing toxic and distasteful liquid from their bodies when they play dead, which is a significant defensive technique to defend themselves from potential dangers.

This technique is known as reflex bleeding because it is the reflex action to the threats in the surroundings. The fluid they release is toxic to many predators, and the foul smell of this liquid also keeps the predators away.

Once, I saw a ladybug in the park when I went for an evening walk with my friend. I always heard about their defense techniques to deter predators, but I never witnessed it.

Suddenly, a magpie appeared on the plant where the ladybug was resting, and it fell on the ground to pretend death while releasing a blood-like fluid. The magpie went near it and flew away without eating it because of the toxic chemical.


They have different colors and markings on their bodies, and they camouflage and play dead to become less prominent to the predators because they remain motionless.

For example, my neighbor has a flower garden, and he told me that many ladybugs are attracted to the flowering plants in his garden.

He told me that he observed their behavior many times, and he noticed a yellowish ladybug hiding in the flowering plant with yellow color and playing dead to escape the predatory birds flying there.

Show stress response

They can get stressed in different situations and respond abnormally, such as becoming immobile or appearing paralyzed.

I read in a research paper about different behaviors and responses to specific situations around their habitat. I was surprised to read they often play dead when they are stressed or notice predators because their bodies release stress hormones, which cause different responses.

Moreover, the researchers observed that these tiny insects are smart enough to show immediate stress responses to protect themselves and manage their daily activities according to particular situations.

Diverting attention to other prey

Playing dead or becoming motionless helps them divert the attention of predators toward other moving insects and prey in the surroundings.

The predators fly or move away to find other insects, and this tactic allows ladybugs to survive and increase their lifespan.

Moreover, my colleague told me that this behavior is also known as thanatosis, and it causes predators to search for other prey around their habitat during foraging.

How do ladybugs play dead?

They are experts at playing dead and surviving threatening situations without any potential harm. For example, I saw a ladybug lying on its back, staying immobile for a few minutes, and starting to move again.

Sometimes, they also tuck in their legs, such as pulling their legs upward in turtle style, which makes them look dead and causes predators to avoid eating them.

Moreover, they entirely stop their body movements to appear lifeless and sometimes lay on the side of their bodies.

They do not show a response to slight touch and movements around them to make sure that predators move away from their place.

Sometimes, people get confused if they see a motionless ladybug and cannot conclude whether they are actually dead or playing dead.

One of the significant signs of a dead ladybug is to stay immobile for many hours in the same place. You can turn it on its back and slightly press the head to see if it moves or responds.

Moreover, the dead insect dries over time and squeezes its body by curling the legs close to the abdomen. Therefore, do not judge these beetles on their physical appearance or motionless behavior; move them gently to see if they kick back to protect themselves.

How long do ladybugs play dead?

They play dead for several minutes until they are sure that the predators are not around and they are safe. A few beetles have been recorded to pretend dead for 20-23 minutes and are observed to come back to life when predators move away from this place.

Moreover, my friend told me that it also depends on the threat level and the situations around their habitats, as sometimes, they start moving and eating a few minutes later when the flying predators observe them from a distance and fly away.

He told me that a ladybug in his yard played dead for approximately 15 minutes when the sparrows and starlings moved away, as they could notice the crawling insects from a distance.

They do not move as long as they sense the danger because it is the only purpose of pretending death, and they do not want to take risks about life.

However, they are actually dead if they do not move for many hours or days and start decomposing, so ladybugs pretending their death do not remain motionless for more than a few minutes if predators have moved away.

What type of ladybugs play dead?

There are many species of ladybugs, and they show different behavior in changing situations in their living sites. They use their tiny bodies to hide and mix in the vegetation if predators are in their close proximity.

The species that play dead include Seven-spotted ladybugs, Eyed ladybugs, Two-spotted ladybugs, spotless ladybugs, Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata, and some of their other species that show this behavior to defend themselves against predators.

Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata have yellow-colored small-sized bodies and have twenty-two black spots on their bodies.

They are also known as twenty-two-spotted ladybirds and can pretend death by lying on the ground or camouflaging in the surroundings.

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