On a recent cold, foggy morning I hit the road early, in search of one of the coolest things I have learned about Oakland in awhile. I was the first visitor to the main gate of Redwood Regional Park; most others were probably still enjoying the warmth of their homes on a chilly Saturday morning. I zipped up my coat, put on my hat, and headed out of the Canyon Meadow Staging Area on the Stream Trail. What I was in search of were big piles of the little red and black bugs that bring us luck when they land on our shoulder. They brought me luck on this morning, I was in for a treat.
It is one of the phenomena of nature that never cease to amaze me. Every year, between November and February, you can find thousands upon thousands of convergent ladybugs huddled together along fence posts, benches, and in leaf litter in a very specific spot within the park. What is even more fascinating, it is not the same ladybugs that have been our guests the year before. Following what is believed to be a scent left by their “forebugs”, the next generation of these happy little beetles ride the winds up and over the costal ranges and float down to the junction of the Stream & Prince Trails within Redwood Regional Park.
Cool huh? So what are they doing? Fat off the thousands of aphids they ate during the summer, they are hibernating in the cool canyon, and possibly doing a little “singles mingling”. It is believed that during the late winter months as the temperatures warm up a bit, they are mating. During the summer they are so focused on eating they often lead a more solitary existence. When it comes time for them to aggregate as the weather changes, it presents the perfect opportunity for them to pair up.
With an estimated lifespan of just over a year, it is not the current population that will return. It will most likely be their offspring, following the pheromone cue left by mom & dad, the future generation will be back next year. In a city full of civic pride and local loyalty, it is just another example of how much Oakland means to even the smallest of species!
I was out on the trail at 8:30am during my visit. I assumed that since the morning would be cold I would see big groups of them huddled together. While this was somewhat the case, they were hard to see because they were buried pretty deep in the debris on the ground. I reached out to Michael Charnofsky, Naturalist with East Bay Regional Parks, and he advised that the best time to see them is actually on a sunny day, between 11:00-1:30. They tend to aggregate more above the leaf litter midday in attempts to warm their little bodies, and possibly to mate.
If you would like to make a trip out to visit the ladybugs, your best bet is to look for them at the junction mentioned above, where the Stream Trail and Prince Trail meet. You can reach this point from both the main gate via Canyon Meadow Staging Area, or from Skyline Gate. The walk is mostly flat from Canyon Meadow, and is about a 3 mile round trip hike. The route from Canyon Meadow is stroller friendly.
There is a chance they may also be at other spots along Stream Trail so keep your eyes out. Another location that has recently been noted by East Bay Regional is Big Bend Meadow, which is about halfway to the above junction from Canyon Meadow Staging. I found one small grouping there. The meadow is marked with a sign.
If you decide to bring kids or dogs for the visit, please keep in mind that a lot of ladybugs may be aggregated on the ground.
Please also note that the ladybugs should not be collected. They won’t do you any good for aphid reduction given their sleepy, hibernating state.
A group hike organized by East Bay Regional Parks is being hosted this coming Sunday, 12/13 @ 10:00am. They will be meeting at the Canyon Meadow Staging Area, there is no fee and a reservation is NOT required. Here is the link to more information on the hike.
I would like to thank Michael Charnofsky of East Bay Regional Parks for all his help and great information.
KQED did a great little video on the ladybugs several years ago…here is the link.
I saw this after my visit and thought it was hilarious…keep your eyes out!
Another great article online here.
Enjoy your visit!
All Photos By Adrienne Schell