A couple of days ago, I spotted several of these little critters, while harvesting black currants (both critter and fruit pictured above). Children are very keen on them, not only because they are colourful and pretty, but because their gentle crawl can hardly be felt; I remember that my friends and I were always very excited to spot one on our clothes or hair, during recess, when I was in elementary school. In Mexico, ladybugs (or ladybirds) are known as catarinas. Their taxonomical family, Coccinellidae, comprises over 5,000 species of these beetles around the World. Most of them are carnivorous, eating pests such as aphids, so ladybugs are well known and liked by gardeners as allies in protecting crops. There is a legend in Europe that says that, during the Middle Ages, an infestation of insects was destroying the crops, threatening the continent with starvation. The people prayed to the Virgin Mary, petitioning for her to save them from this plague. In answer to their prayer, a cloud of black-spotted, red beetles came and promptly ate the offending pests; the grateful farmers named them “Our Lady’s Bugs”, later shortened to “ladybug.”
I also spotted a second kind of critter, resting on the same plant. Best known for their glow at night, las luciérnagas, in Spanish, or fireflies in English, are a sure sign of summer. Less known is that they are not flies but beetles, and also another garden hero as a natural pest control; the female adults deposit their eggs in the ground, where their larvae feed on worms and slugs. The firefly’s family, Lampyridae , counts with around 2,100 species. There is a place in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala, where thousands of fireflies arrive in the summer months, to mate. I never saw a luciérnaga in Mexico City, and I am still fascinated by them when I see them glowing at night now, right in my backyard.