In no instance has a New Jersey Mega Millions winner attributed his windfall to a ladybug.
In no New Jersey nursing home has a 113-year-old woman said: “I owe it all to the ladybugs.”
Despite such hard evidence, New Jersey’s number one superstition, according to a recent survey, is … ladybugs bring good luck.
“The number of dots on them is the number of years you have good luck,” said Matt Zajechowski, researcher and spokesman for Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee.
In the U.S., superstitions vary by region, their study found.
This research was done, to be clear, for publicity purposes: Potawatomi Casino is in the luck business. But there was method to it.
Sympathy for the cicada:Soon-to-emerge Brood X is harmless. And tasty. And really loud!
A team of five (Zajechowski was one of them) analyzed Google search volume for 200 superstitions, and broke the results down state by state. They also did a survey of 1000 Americans, across all 50 states.
It turns out that superstitions are as varied as we are.
Black cats are the reigning fear in South Carolina, while folks are more worried about owls in Oregon. Lucky pennies are the No. 1 charm in California and Texas, while four-leaf clovers (Massachusetts), lucky rabbit’s feet (Mississippi) and lucky numbers (Nevada) are the fashion elsewhere.
With us, it’s ladybugs.
And we’re not alone. Ladybugs are No. 5 on the country’s superstition hit parade. The top four, in order, are (1) throwing salt over your shoulder, (2) bad luck comes in threes (3) a rabbit’s foot is good luck (4) Friday the 13th is an unlucky day.
“All of these are old,” Zajechowski said. “They have these long historical meanings. If you looked at this 150 years ago, the beliefs would probably have been very similar. It’s almost like it’s passed down from one generation to another.”
For a supposedly hard-nosed people, Americans are very superstitious — and that’s nothing new.
In New York, the alleged seat of sophistication, high-rises used to be built without 13th floors — the elevator would go from 12 to 14. In the 1920s H.L. Mencken, America’s most famous atheist and skeptic, freely confessed to all kinds of irrational beliefs. “Like all other infidels, I am superstitious and always follow hunches,” he said.
So why ladybugs, and why the Garden State? Well, there could be part of your answer.
We are — or were — a state of farmers. “There may be a tie-in with the Garden State heritage, that makes people embrace them,” Zajechowski said.
Few omens, good or bad, have such a wealth of lore around them as the ladybug. Here, according to Zajechowski, are some of the other ancillary superstitions that are connected with Coccinellidae — otherwise known as the ladybird beetle.
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Ladybugs mean good weather.
Killing ladybugs is bad luck.
Catching a ladybug, wishing, letting it go, and watching where it flies off to will let you know from which direction your good luck will “come from.”
Counting ladybug spots will tell you how many children you will have.
Finding a ladybug with no spots means you will find true love.
Ladybugs with seven or less spots are the sign of a good harvest.
An unmarried woman who has a ladybug land on her will be married within a year.
Yellow ladybugs are a sign of new love, new adventure, new travel.
If a man and woman see a ladybug at the same time, they will fall in love. (Apparently, that last applies only to Norway.)
“People believe they are beacons of good luck,” Zajechowski said. “And they’ve been embraced by pop culture. Kids’ sports teams are named The Ladybugs. All this girls’ stuff, school stuff, has ladybugs on it.”
Many people, no doubt, like ladybugs because they’re cute. Cute as a bug, in fact. They’re so tiny! So orange! There is a reason why people buy ladybug handbags, lipstick, knapsacks, umbrellas, toys, jewelry, pajamas, boots, underwear, dinnerware, towels, books, ponchos, decorative accents, costumes. A cockroach just doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi.
“There are probably just as many ants as ladybugs, but they are not as appealing,” Zajechowski said. “Ladybugs are not going to ruin your picnic.”
A grain of truth
But there’s another reason for the ladybug superstition. Ladybugs are good luck.
“There is no question that they are good guys,” said Joel Flagler, professor and agricultural extension agent for Rutgers University.
“They prey on undesirable insects, so they are considered beneficial predators,” Flagler said. “Ladybugs will hunt down aphids and just feast on them all day. And they will do that, even in their larval stage. They are voracious predators.”
That’s why farmers like them. And why greenhouse growers will buy them from suppliers and release them indoors.
There are 5,000 species of ladybug; the one we’re most familiar with in New Jersey is the Asian ladybug, which over the last few decades has muscled in on the native species. “The Asian ladybug is a little bit bigger than the native, otherwise it looks the same and behaves the same,” Flagler said.
It’s a bit early for them right now, Flagler said. Generally around May is when the larvae hatch. “They look like little dragons with scales, orange and black,” he said. Between May and July, depending on the temperature, is when they metamorphose into their adult stage. But the season they really make their presence felt is the fall, when they begin to swarm.
“It’s the cold weather,” Flagler said. “As the nights start to get cold, they congregate to conserve heat. They congregate on the south-facing sides of buildings, where it’s warmer. They hang out in south-facing windows. They’re congregating for warmth. Many insects do it.”
Whatever else our love of ladybugs may say about us, it may be noteworthy is that we embrace a positive omen — a bringer of good, rather than bad, luck. It suggests that we Jerseyans are an optimistic people
And indeed, that seems to apply to a majority of Americans, the survey found. Of the 1,000 people interviewed, 65 percent said they were superstitious. Of that group, 83 percent said they believed in good luck; 50 percent believed in bad.
“We found,” Zajechowski said, “more people were optimistic about superstitions.”
Jim Beckerman is an entertainment and culture reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his insightful reports about how you spend your leisure time, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: What is New Jersey’s most popular superstition? (Hint: It brings good luck)