It's Ladybug Season and we've got a guide to helping you bring kids to see them in Oakland.
Ladybugs (properly known as ladybug beetles) are often seen in our gardens in the summer eating aphids and other pests that plague our outdoor plants. But did you ever stop to think about what happens to them in the winter? Do they all die off? Are the ladybugs we see in spring newly hatched or have they been around since last year? Do they migrate to warmer climes like Monarch butterflies or do they hide somewhere close by?
Well, it turns out that they don’t really migrate away, and neither do they hide very well. They look for a spot where they can congregate with thousands of other ladybugs safely and hang out for the winter.
And where might you (and your children) go to see thousands of ladybugs hanging out together?
We actually don’t have to go any further than a short walk in our very own Redwood Regional Park.
The ladybugs congregate on the plants (and fence posts!) along the stream trail, roughly between the intersections with the Prince and Eucalyptus trails.
There are two ways to get there.
You can park at the Skyline Gate staging area and hike down the Stream Trail ¾ mile to the Eucalyptus trail, and another half mile if you make it all the way to the Prince Trail. Be warned that you’re going to lose a couple of hundred feet as you drop into the canyon so it’s probably best suited for babies in a backpack (with a strong set of legs under it) or school-aged children who are accustomed to hiking. Also, there are not many spots in the lot so if you arrive by mid-morning on the weekend you could find yourself out of luck.
My favorite way to get there is to park in the Canyon Meadows Staging Area and go up the stream instead. The parking lot at Canyon Meadows isn’t huge either, but there are overflow lots further back down the road. There’s no parking fee in the winter. The trail is longer from this end but the best part about it is you can take bikes for the first ¾ mile, leaving you with only ¾ mile of pretty flat walking to get to the ladybugs. Biked miles are almost ‘free’ miles for us, with the whines per mile ratio much lower than for walking.
Step-by-step directions for a ladybug discovery session
Start biking along the Stream Trail, with a brief stop to play “Pooh Sticks” (watch your sticks float from one side of the bridge to the other) at the bridge if you like. The Old Church area is great for salamander hunting if you find you need a pit stop to let folks catch up. The trail is paved as far as the shelter at Trail’s End, where there’s a bike rack big enough for one family and if it’s full, you may secure your bikes to a fence post.
Continue walking up the Stream Trail, crossing a bridge 0.36 miles after you started walking to stay on the Stream Trail. The trail can be muddy and slippery after rain so wear shoes with some grip. There are a couple of steep-ish sections but the overall grade is pretty flat.
Just before the intersection with the Stream Trail you’ll see an interpretive panel with information about the ladybugs, which you will see all over the fence posts and plants in that area.
I had thought they might be asleep but they are very much awake – it’s pretty fun to see one ladybug riding on another ladybug which is in turn riding on another ladybug, sometimes all crawling in different directions. My preschooler enjoyed singing to them (to make sure they were awake) and studying them through a small magnifying glass, as well as trying to entice them to step onto her finger.
You can continue along to the intersection with the Eucalyptus Trail if you liked, but many children will be content to turn back here and save some energy for salamander hunting and playing on the playground on the return journey.
The rangers out of the Crab Cove Visitor Center (affiliated with Crab Cove Regional Shoreline rather than Redwood Regional Park, for reasons I don’t fully understand) lead occasional tours to see the ladybugs so if you’re more comfortable being guided you could ‘follow’ them on Facebook to receive updates on their schedule. If you prefer to have the ladybugs to yourselves then avoid tour days…and weekends after mid-morning. Your best bet might be to play hooky from work and head out after school as we did – that way you can be pretty much assured of having them to yourselves. Either way, see them before the end of February…or wait until November to catch them again!
Jen Lumanlan lives in Berkeley with her husband and 4.5-year-old daughter. Upon realizing she had no parenting instinct whatsoever, she went back to school for a Master’s in Psychology and started the Your Parenting Mojo podcast to share research-based information on parenting and child development which has now been downloaded more than half a million times. If you’d like to spend more time outdoors with your child but are intimidated because you ‘don’t know anything about nature,’ check out the interview she recorded with Dr. Scott Sampson (yep, from Dinosaur Train!) about his book How to Raise A Wild Child: it’s packed with super-easy tips to help you get outside!