It was a cool March morning in a redwood forest of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains.

My family ventured up a small fern-lined creek following an overgrown trail – a trail less traveled.

Near the top of the stream the trail became overgrown, we climbed to the canyon’s edge to walk a more recognizable path. A major trail was about twenty feet away. Walking to the trail we noticed a single ladybug basking in a sunbeam just in front of us. We thought this to be a rare sight for the time of year.

In another step, we saw ten ladybugs, then one hundred. Several more steps and we saw clumps and carpets of red and black ladybugs covering the ground! Then we noticed that all around us the tree branches and tree trunks were also covered. Surrounding us were millions of ladybugs!

The ladybug patchwork carpet covered an area roughly 20 by 30 feet. The ladybugs were clumped between the ridges and valleys of redwood bark forty feet above our heads before becoming difficult to see. We recognized that we had ventured into a rarely seen spectacle.

The ladybugs were apparently emerging from ‘diapause’, the insect equivalent of hibernation. During diapause, the ladybugs gather together in large groups to conserve their resources and for reproductive purposes. “Ladybugs can survive for up to nine months by living off their stored reserves. They break out of diapause when the temperature reaches 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius), which is generally when food becomes available again.”

The ladybugs that were fortunate enough to enjoy a sunbeam were more energetic than their cooler neighbors, sometimes only inches away.

These insects are commonly referred to as ladybugs but are actually beetles. Their correct name is the Ladybird Beetle. Apparently, such grouping locations are carefully guarded secrets by people (who must obtain a special permit) who harvest the beetles primarily for the purpose of selling in garden stores as pest control insects.

We were awed by this large concentration of ladybugs and watched them for some time before continuing down the trail.

We left the ladybugs as we found them. Their location enjoyed others who may take a trail less taken.

Reference Source: San Diego Zoo website > Animal Bytes > Insects > Ladybugs.

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