Most small children-especially girls-love ladybugs. When I was in the first through third grades, my girlfriends and I knew exactly what we wanted to do during recess when spring turned the southern California days nice and warm: Go out into the fields of our elementary school playground, full of grass and clover, and catch the ladybugs that seemed to have landed on every other blade of grass or plant leaf.
We weren’t sophisticated about our storage method. For many of us, a metal lunch box, with holes punched for air, sufficed. We usually tried to mimic the ladybugs habitat by throwing some grass and clover into the lunch box.
We didn’t keep the insects long in our catch-and-release program. Mainly that was because we didn’t want the insects to die. I think it was also because our teachers looked askance at students bringing little flocks of insects into their classroom. I seem to recall at least one disaster where a couple dozen ladybugs were accidentally set loose in the classroom. Nonetheless, my nostalgia for this activitythe heat of the sun and the smell of warm glass as we hunted for the shiny red and black polka-dot treasures remains.
You can capture the springtime fun represented by ladybugs via a “ladybug party.” Your first step is to purchase a slew of ladybugs, which are available online or at most garden centers. They are sold as an organic pest-control alternative because they enjoy snacking on garden predators like aphids and other slow-moving insects like scales, thrips, mites, mealybugs and leafhoppers, as well as moth eggs. One ladybug may eat as many as 5,000 aphids during its lifespan! You can buy ladybugs by the quart or pint, just like milk. Gardeningzone.com sells the insects for $29.95 a quart, or 18,000 insects. If this seems like overkill, you can purchase live ladybugs in smaller counts, including half-pint bags for $13.50 (4,500 ladybugs) and small bags of 300 ladybugs for $3.85.
Some 90-95 percent of the ladybugs you buy for your bash will fly to greener pastures almost immediately, but the remaining 5-10 percent should suffice to provide some insect-hunting fun. You might want to water your garden lightly before releasing the ladybugs because moist conditions will encourage them to stay. You might want to check ahead of time to ensure that your screen doors, porch screens and window screens are properly sealed, so that those ladybugs with wanderlust do not attempt an exodus into your house!
When you’re ready for the highlight of your party, set the insects free in your backyard and let party attendees hunt for them. Set them free in your backyard and let party attendees hunt for them. Because the insects’ capture is temporary, almost any container will do. You might want to pick up some canning jars at the grocery store or online, and use a hammer and nails to create breathing holes at the top. (If you have youngsters help you in this activity, be sure to supervise them). The children can use red and black Sharpie markers to decorate their jars. The kids can catch the bugs with their hands but it might be fun to add some butterfly nets into the mix. These are available for $1.99 each from birthdayinabox.com, which offers an entire selection of ladybug-themed party supplies.
Before the kids begin bug-hunting, you might want to take a moment to speak about ecological concerns. Let them know how important every creature is to an ecosystem, as well as why ladybugs are helpful as well as cute. You can introduce the concept of organic gardening-why people avoid pesticides-and stress the importance of releasing the bugs after they have been captured and enjoyed for a bit. Then, it’s time for the hunt to begin. Don’t forget to get out your camera, because pint-sized guests capturing colorful insects is sure to be a wonderful photo opportunity.
There are other activities that can help add to the ladybug theme. If you have a steady hand and some red and black bottles of nail polish, you can paint the fingernails of young girls in attendance to resemble ladybugs. If your guests are old enough, they can attempt this fun look themselves. If your guests are very small, you might want to let their parents know that “a manicure” is in the works. Most parents will be game, but the occasional mom or dad has strict rules about no make-up or nail polish on their child. Don’t forget to remind the girls to sit still long enough for the nail polish coats to dry. You can continue the theme by using a face painting kit to paint ladybugs (thankfully easy to draw) on your guests’ cheeks.
Make a handmade cake and decorate it ladybug-style, ice sugar cookies in red and black frosting, or decorate cupcakes like the colorful bugs (the antenna can be made with black licorice, or red, if you prefer, and the dots can be made out of brown M&M;’s). Directions for making sweet ladybug treats can be found at amazingmoms.com.
Some red helium balloons embellished with red dots (again, that Sharpie comes in handy!) can complete your ladybug theme. Some red-centric food including fruit punch and sliced watermelon can be served along with an easy main dish like pizza, using inexpensive red paper plates and cups. However, if you are the type to go all out, birthdayinabox.com offers all you ever wanted and more to create a ladybug-themed ambiance. Options include ladybug invitations, large Mylar ladybug balloons, ladybug pinatas, a ladybug cake pan, ladybug embellished cups, plates and napkins plus party favors such as plush ladybug headbands. You’ll want to plan ahead and shop according to your budget because, as you know, the cost for a child’s party can add up.
I thought I was the first one to conceive of a ladybug party, but a variety of ideas for just such a shindig may be found at the Amazing Moms site (www.amazingmoms.com/htm/party.ladybug.htm). Suggested activities include playing “Pin the Ladybug on the Leaf” and guessing how many ladybugs (red and black jellybeans) are in a jar. The kids can calm down toward the end of the party with story time, the Amazing Moms suggest, where you can read a book like Eric Carle’s “The Grouchy Ladybug” aloud.
Everyone loves ladybugs and, as spring-and your little one’s party-approaches, it’s a great time to celebrate one of nature’s cute-as-a-button critters. Prepare for excitement, because this party will have everyone seeing spots!