Words and pictures by Peter Bauer

Every year about Mother’s Day, a bizarre phenomenon occurs at the top of Twin Peaks. As the sun warms the south-facing portion of the summit crag, the rocks begin oozing ladybugs out of the cracks. First a line, then a group, and finally a pile, not dispersing until the temperature rises sufficiently.

I have no explanation for the eruption of hundreds of ladybugs in an area of such limited forage. If it is for reproduction, then these insects have adopted the beetle-version of speed dating! I saw the occasional suggestive pairing of beetles lasting all of five seconds. And why at the top of the mountain? At any rate, it’s an easier group to get action shots of than a similar gathering of, say, elk.

Editor’s notes: We’ve notice this same communal activity on top of Cashmere Mountain and atop Mount Maude in June and July — presumably because higher- elevation bug orgies occur later in the season than lower-elevation ones. We’ve done some quick Internet searches and here are some random facts about ladybugs: There are over 5,000 species of beetles in this family (Coccinellidae) and many of those species are considered good because they eat bugs that piss-off gardners (like aphids), they live 2 to 3 years in the wild, they can excrete chemicals that make them taste bad to predators (thereafter their color warns predators that these are the little candies that tasted awful). 

There are also some interesting proverbs about ladybugs. For example, in Northern Europe if one lands on you, you make a wish, blow the ladybug away, and your wish will come true. Peter could have an awful lot of good fortune by sitting down amongst this cluster of ladies.

In Central Europe a ladybug crawling across a girl’s hand signifies she will be married within a year. So if a girl places her hands amongst Peter’s den will the girl have multiple marriages? That’s certainly bad luck. Better to live in Northern Europe.

Still, why these big clusters of ladybugs form on the top of our local peaks is still a mystery to us too. Are they peak baggers? Do they come for the view? Are they still dispersing after clustering together for the winter? Is there something about this particular specie of ladybugs that dines on the lichens of elevation? Have they come to mate and, if so, how does a specie made up totally of ladies carry on?

This post was originally published on 5/19/10.


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