Flowers are easy, but to snap pictures of these teeny tiny critters resembling multicolored M&Ms (which, in Japan, are not as garden variety as KitKats) requires a lot of patience, precision and timing. Good thing, my wandering buddy-kids love the fields, and the warming Nihon spring allows the insects to settle in with the now robust vegetation.

My wandering buddies have a keen eye for these tiny colorful critters.
On a very good day, you will find a ladybug resting on just the right spot.

They are famously and oddly called ladybugs and ladybirds in many parts of the world, even lady cow in some, but they are neither bugs (based on the biological definition of true bugs) nor ladies (well, not merely composed of), and definitely not birds nor cows. In Japan, the misnomer is just half as odd, since they are simply called “lady insects” or tentoumushi.

Francis: “So, being a ladybug automatically makes me a girl. Is that it, fly boy? Eh?”
Fly: “Yikes! She’s a guy!” (From “A Bug’s Life”)

Now, “lady” is not an attempt to genderize the Coccinellidae family, to which these beetles belong to. It’s actually a shortened “Our Lady,” in honor of the mother of Jesus Christ, Mary, with particular reference to the seven-dotted Coccinella septempunctata. Beloved insects, ladybugs help farmers protect rice and corn fields from pests like aphids and mites.

The seven spots of the Coccinella septempunctatato ladybug is believed to symbolize the seven pains of Mary, “the Lady.”
Ladybugs are beloved by corn and rice farmers.
A ladybug corners an aphid.

Since first spotting them in the backyard, ladybug hunting has become as regular as school and biking for us, that the activity has even extended to the nearby school farm, which, to our and the ladybugs’ delight, is now growing corn and wheat crops. And it always amazes me that the excitement of a “Tentoumushi!” shout from either Iva or Uri, even after countless times, has not fainted one bit.

Ladybug season is announced by the larvae climbing on leaves and branches of plants, even on walls of buildings.
This ladybug is probably drying out its fragile wings, as it prepares for its flight – a rare sight.

Iva’s “Shizen Zukan” book

“Daddy, I have a book with lots of tentoumushi,” an eager Iva told me one day, coming home from youchien. Truly, the book had quite a collection ladybugs that we thought of marking those that we had found and would later find. We have yet to mark everything, but I never thought that we would outdo the entries in the book in terms of variety, as the kids were relentless and very keen on spotting the slightest streak of the little shiny domes in the vast sea of greenery. It turns out, ladybug species come in thousands, and we were just having a very good peek of these wonderful creatures in the small patch of land within our grasp.

In Iva’s book, ladybugs that we had already seen were marked with orange stickers.
Unavailable in Iva’s book of insects, this white-dotted ladybug species is one of our rare finds. 
Even critters wedged in corn stalks don’t escape the keen eyes of my ladybug hunters.

Let It Be

So, beetles, Mother Mary, and a transitional Generation Y with a love for the oldies of my time – it would be crazy for me not to think of the Beatles and their hit, “Let It Be.” Whether Paul McCartney was pertaining to his mother instead of the biblical Mary is irrelevant; I also doubt that the band even contemplated on Coccinellids at any point of their phenomenal career. But, ladybug-speak, there’s profundity in those three words that glitter that song, stanza after stanza, chorus after chorus.

If you’ve been with kids who like chasing after ladybugs, the crushing death of one beautiful critter is not far off. And so, in the words of what may be the most famous band the world will ever know, we echo to our youngsters the best ladybug hunting advice: Let it be.

Let it walk wherever it wants to, be it your hand or the blades of grass surrounding it, but do not forcefully take a ladybug; else, you’ll be bound to lose it all the more. That is, indeed, speaking words of wisdom.

Be fruitful and multiply, protectors of Japan’s most important crop!
Be fruitful and multiply, ye guardians of the world’s sweetest corn!