The red shells are easy to spot, even in the shadows. So are the aphids, black blots leading to dense clusters. One big borage plant is hosting a feast. Several beetles are roaming the bristly stems and finding food everywhere. Sated, they rest on the underside of the leaves—along with even more aphids.
The majority of them are multicolored Asian lady beetles, an invasive species that was introduced to help crops. While beneficial in the yard, they are now the most common species and outcompete natives, like the western blood-red (below). I didn’t know any of this before yesterday, when I referenced the Pacific Northwest Insects field guide. Honestly, I would’ve said that an all-red beetle was just young, as if it gains spots with maturity.
Where there’s food, there’s family. A couple feet away, I spotted two pupae sitting on columbine leaves. At this orangish, lumpy stage, they stay in place for several days before they emerge as adults. It wasn’t until I looked at the photo that I could see the green aphid next to it—with its own young. It appeared to be careless parenting, but I guess it was a teachable moment. After all, the pupa didn’t budge and the aphids were gone the next morning.
Ps. I choose to call them lady beetles instead of ladybugs not because I’m concerned with the bug/insect distinction. I just think people overlook the fact that they are beetles.