The curious history of the Ladybug

[In late September of 1916, British and French soldiers renewed their attacks on German lines around Thiepval. At a heavy cost to both sides, the British took the village of Thiepval. Heavy rains fell the first week of October, turning the fields to mud and silencing the guns for a moment. The Daily Telegraph ran the headline, A Quiet Break on the Front.

I am touring the battlefields. Outside the memorial at Thiepval to the more than 72,000 missing British soldiers, whose bodies were never recovered, there in fields in the wheat, I spot a ladybug waiting for an aphid to eat.]

grass-ladybug
Ladybug on a stalk of grass hunting aphids

The curious history of the Ladybug should be told. It is an old tale, whispered by children amongst themselves. Never, no not ever, told to an adult under any circumstances at all. This beetle, quite little, is delightfully charming. What’s more, surprise, it flies like a bird. So gather round children, I will tell you the tale, but promise me, to dad and mom, nary a word.

In England it is not uncommon to call a ladybug a ladybird. This delightful orange insect, which is in fact a beetle and not a bug, can fly away if threatened. English children came up with a nursery rhyme for the ladybug –

“Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house in on fire and your children are gone”

One explanation for the words comes from the farmers’ custom of burning fields in late fall to rid the land of grasshoppers, aphids, and other pests. But, spare the ladybug if one can, which consumes 50 to 60 aphids a day over a two to three-year life span. In winter ladybugs don’t eat a thing, but hibernate and gather together for warmth and protection.
One other explanation of the ladybug rhyme.
The daughter of King Henry VIII, Bloody Queen Mary assumed the throne of England in 1553, after the death of her younger half-brother James. She ruled for five years. During that time, she reinstated Roman Catholicism and made her point by burning at the stake more than 280 Protestants. At her death in 1558, Elizabeth I became Queen of England and reversed Bloody Mary’s religious proclamation. The saying of Mass was outlawed and Jesuits declared traitors. Priests who continued to say Mass were often punished by being drawn and quartered, rather than burned at the stake.
Thus, the nursery rhyme was a child’s code word to watch out.
The irony is that the ladybug’s name comes from the Virgin Mary.
When their fields were plagued by aphids, farmers prayed for divine intersession. The little orange beetle came and ate the aphids, sparing the farmers’ crops. The beetle became the Ladybug.

grass-ladybug-3
Ladybug

In French, ladybug is coccinelle,” – Insecte de forme ronde, dont le corps est rouge à pois noirs. La coccinelle est l’amie des jardiniers parce qu’elle se nourrit de pucerons .

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